70% of Teens Hide Their Online Behavior from Their Parents, McAfee Reveals What U.S. Teens are Really Doing Online, and How Little Their Parents Actually Know

Hidden Behavior Includes Everything from Adult Content to Cheating on School Work, Up from 45% since 2010

Study Reveals Top 10 Ways Teens Are Fooling Their Parents

22.8% of Parents Are Overwhelmed by Technology and Just Hope for the Best

SANTA CLARA, Calif.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--McAfee, the world’s largest dedicated security technology company, today released findings from the company’s 2012 Teen Internet Behavior study. The study investigates the online habits, behaviors, interests, and lifestyles of the first generation to truly grow up online, and discloses how teens are not only engaging in risky behaviors, but how they are hiding it from their parents, many of whom don’t realize they are being fooled. The study also exposes ten ways teens are hiding their online activities from their parents.

“While it is not necessarily surprising that teens are engaging in the same types of rebellious behaviors online that they exhibit offline, it is surprising how disconnected their parents are”

Despite their awareness of online dangers, teens continue to take risks by posting personal information and risky photos online, unbeknownst to parents. Many teens are accessing inappropriate online content, despite 73.5% of parents whom trust their teens to not access age-inappropriate content online. Specifically 43% of teens have accessed simulated violence online, 36% have access sexual topics online, and 32% have accessed nude content or pornography online.

Nearly half of parents believe their teens tell them everything they do online and insist they are in control when it comes to monitoring their teen’s online behaviors. However, the study reveals that teens deceiving their parents are on the rise, as over 70% of teens have found ways to avoid parental monitoring, compared to 2010, where 45% of teens have hidden their online behavior from a parent. The top 10 ways teens are fooling their parents include:

  1. Clearing the browser history (53%)
  2. Close/minimize browser when parent walked in (46%)
  3. Hide or delete IMs or videos (34%)
  4. Lie or omit details about online activities (23%)
  5. Use a computer your parents don’t check (23%)
  6. Use an internet-enabled mobile device (21%)
  7. Use privacy settings to make certain content viewable only by friends (20%)
  8. Use private browsing modes (20%)
  9. Create private email address unknown to parents (15%)
  10. Create duplicate/fake social network profiles (9%)

As teens continue to outsmart their parents online, more and more teens are participating in dangerous and even illegal activities. Surprisingly, 15% of teens have hacked a social network account, 30.7% access pirated movies and music, and 8.7% have hacked someone’s email online, while less than 15% of parents are aware their children are engaging in any of these behaviors. Instant access to information has also made it easier than ever for teens to cheat in school with 16% of teens having admitted to looking for test answers on their phone, and 48.1% of teens having looked up answers online. Meanwhile 77.2% of parents said they were not very or not at all worried about their teens cheating online, again showing the disconnect.

“While it is not necessarily surprising that teens are engaging in the same types of rebellious behaviors online that they exhibit offline, it is surprising how disconnected their parents are,” says Stanley Holditch, Online Safety Expert for McAfee. “There is a major increase in the number of teens finding ways to hide what they do online from their parents, as compared to the 2010 study. This is a generation that is so comfortable with technology that they are surpassing their parents in understanding and getting away with behaviors that are putting their safety at risk.”

In addition to putting themselves in risky situations, teens are finding that much of this online behavior is attributing to personal problems. In fact, over half of teens with a social network account have already experienced negative consequences as a result of being on a social network account, such as arguing with friends (35.4%), getting into trouble at home or school (25.2%), ending friendships (20%), fearing for their safety (6.8%), and physical fights (4.5%). Conversely, many parents live in denial, with only 22% claiming that their teens can get into that much trouble online.

Despite the classic “not my kid” denial, many parents are starting to up the ante with online monitoring to help keep their kids safe online by: setting parental controls (49%), obtaining email and social network passwords (44%), taking away computer and mobile devices (27%), and using location-based devices to keep track of teens (10%). But there are still some parents so overwhelmed by technology that they are throwing up their hands and hoping for the best. In fact, 23% of the surveyed parents disclosed that they are not monitoring their children’s online behaviors because they are overwhelmed by technology.

“Parents need to get informed about their children’s online behavior,” says Robert Siciliano, McAfee Online Security Expert. “The fact is that allowing teens to participate in unmonitored online activity exposes them to real dangers with real consequences, and these dangers are growing exponentially with the proliferation of social networks.”

Other key findings included:

  • Teens spend more time online than their parents think. On average, teens spend about five hours a day online; while parents only think their kids spend an average of three hours a day online. Nearly 10% of teens (10.3%) spend more than 10 hours a day online
  • Parents are blind to how much teens check social networks. Teens are glued to their news feeds with 60% of social network users checking their accounts daily and 41% checking their accounts constantly. Only 48% of parents think their teens check their accounts daily, and only 22% believe their teens check their accounts constantly.
  • Despite the rise of smartphones Generation Z goes online old school. Generation Z spends more time online via laptops (37.35%) and desktops (29.8%) compared to smartphones (13.48%) and tablets (5%).
  • Teens don’t think online friends are dangerous strangers. 12% of teens reported meeting someone offline that they only knew through online interactions.
  • Foursquare and check-in sites dwindling. Facebook was the most popular site with 89.5% of teens using it, followed by Twitter (48.7%), Google+ (41.5%), Tumblr (33%), Pintrest (20%), 4chan (23%), and MySpace (18%). Foursquare and location-based sites were the least popular among teens (12.2%).
  • 4chan and Tumblr are on the rise. Tumblr and 4chan networks are increasing in popularity with a distinct divide between who prefers each site. Tumblr is more popular with teen females (40.9%) and 4chan is more popular with teen males (29.8%). As popular as these networks are become, many parents are unaware of their existence and their teen’s usage. Only 13% of parents believe their teens are active on 4chan or other online image boards or discussion boards, and only 16% of parents believe their teens are active on Tumblr.
  • Teens stalk rather than share. Half of teens claim their social network time is spent mostly observing others’ activities, rather than actively posting anything, themselves. 39% describe themselves as more engaged (chatting, posting, etc…) and 6% say they share almost everything.
  • When teens do share, parents need to beware. 49% of teens post risky comment on social networks (such as foul language - 39% and hooking up with someone - 10%), with 16.3% of those comments containing information they would not want their parents to know about. 21.5% of teens post photos on social networks, with 7.5% featuring those teens in revealing clothing and 4.1% feature intoxication.
  • Nearly two in three teens agree their parents know some of what they do online, but notably, not everything. Two in three teens say their parents don’t need to know everything they do online. In fact, half of teens would actually change their online behavior if they knew their parents were watching.
  • Some parents just throw their hands up in defeat. One in three believes their teen to be much more tech-savvy then they are, leaving them feeling helpless to keep up with their teen’s online behaviors. 23% admitting that they were overwhelmed by modern technologies and just hope for the best. With just as many claiming they don’t have the time or energy to keep up with everything these teens do online.
  • Parents don’t think teens look at porn online. Only 12% of parents think their teen’s access pornography online, when 32% of teens have accessed porn intentionally online and 43% of them access it on a weekly basis, if not more frequently. Additionally, 36% of teens have accessed sexual topics online, such as STD’s and issues on pregnancy, with more females than males doing so.
  • Cyberbullying is on the rise. 62.1% of all teens have witnessed cruel behavior online and 23.3% have claimed to be targets of cyberbullying, while only 10% of parents believe their teens have been targeted online. Whites are most likely to be targeted (25.3%), as well as 16-17 year olds (26.2%).
  • Teens don’t just witness cruel behavior, they join in. Teens have felt social pressure to participate in cyberbullying, with 9.5% of teens actually bullying, and 24.9% posting mean comments.
  • Facebook is the new school yard for bullies. 93% of teens who have witnessed cruel behavior online say that majority of cruel online behavior took place on Facebook. Furthermore half of teens have had a negative experience as a result of a social network site. Email was reported as one of the safest online activity with only 6.37% of teens reporting cruel behavior, followed by online forums (9.6%) and Tumblr (10%).

Quantitative Methodology

TRU conducted a total of 2,017 online interviews in the U.S. among teens ages 13-17 and parents of teens ages 13-17. These interviews were split evenly among 1,004 teens and 1,013 parents of teens. The parent/teen samples yield a margin of error of + 3.1 percentage points. The total sample of 2,017 yields a margin of error of + 2.2 percentage points. The interviews were conducted from May 4th through May 29th, 2012.

Interviews among teens were split evenly by age and gender. Interviews among parents were split fairly evenly by gender, as well as by age and gender of their teen. The sample was comprised of 15% Hispanic and 15% African American respondents and achieved geographic distribution according to the US census.

To learn more, please visit:

Report - http://www.mcafee.com/us/resources/misc/digital-divide-study.pdf

Blog Post - https://blogs.mcafee.com/consumer/thedigitaldividestudy

About McAfee

McAfee, a wholly owned subsidiary of Intel Corporation (NASDAQ:INTC), is the world's largest dedicated security technology company. McAfee delivers proactive and proven solutions and services that help secure systems, networks, and mobile devices around the world, allowing users to safely connect to the Internet, browse and shop the Web more securely. Backed by its unrivaled Global Threat Intelligence, McAfee creates innovative products that empower home users, businesses, the public sector and service providers by enabling them to prove compliance with regulations, protect data, prevent disruptions, identify vulnerabilities, and continuously monitor and improve their security. McAfee is relentlessly focused on constantly finding new ways to keep our customers safe. http://www.mcafee.com

Note: McAfee is a registered trademark of McAfee, Inc. in the United States and other countries. Other names and brands may be claimed as the property of others.


Jaime Leigh Le, 408-346-5276
DKC Public Relations
Eva Ross, 212-981-5218