Study: Parents have no clue what their kids are actually doing online

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Study: Parents have no clue what their kids are actually doing online
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It’s become the norm these days to see teenagers, and even young kids, constantly staring at their smartphone, tablet or some other device.

But do parents have any idea their kids are actually doing during all that time they spend online?

Not a clue.

Are parents clueless about their kids’ online activity?

That was the conclusion of a recently released survey conducted by the National Cyber Security Alliance. The survey, which was co-sponsored by Microsoft, was “designed to better understand the dynamic online lives of teenagers, including the kinds of problems they face in their digital daily lives and parents’ levels of concern and engagement.”

The group surveyed 804 teenagers between the ages of 13 and 17, as well as 810 parents. In general, the survey showed that parents are pretty out of touch with their kids’ online activity, whether it’s a lack of communication or simply the result of an evolving and somewhat new concern for parents these days. But overall, both teens and parents are concerned about online bullying and other threats — the problem though, is do they know how to handle it?

Here’s a look at some of the results.

Read more: How to protect your kids from criminals online

The digital divide between parents and kids

Online activity

Since we’re talking about teenagers here, it’s probably not surprising that 60% of teens said they have online accounts that their parents don’t know about, but only 28% of parents suspect that their kids have secret accounts. That also means that 72% of parents may be convinced that their teenager tells them all about their life online — since teens have always told their parents everything, right? Insert straight-faced emoji.

Apparently, a lot of parents really have no clue — while 30% of teens said their parents are either “not aware at all” or “not very aware” of their online activity, 57% of parents said they are “not aware at all” or “not very aware” of what their kids are doing online all the time.

How teens deal with issues online

The survey revealed some interesting insight into how teens typically deal with issues they face online — with 43% of teens saying that their friends are the first place they turn to for help.

Online rules: Are they doing any good?

On the same note, 67% of parents said they have a rule that their kids must tell them about any uncomfortable or scary situations that they run into online, while only 32% of teens said that rule even existed.

So while many parents expect their kids to come to them with concerns, it’s clear that very few actually do.

On top of that, 50% of parents said their kids are required to share their account and password information with them, but only 16% of teens reported having that rule in their house.

But whether or not the rules exist, the survey shows that they don’t really do any good anyway — with 70% of parents reporting that their kids have “difficulty” following these types of rules.

Read more: Ways to keep your kids safe online

The dangers of this digital divide

While it may not be surprising that teens aren’t turning to their parents, it is concerning — because the majority of teens surveyed are actually worried about their safety online.

According to the report, teens say they are “very concerned about someone”:

  • Accessing their account without permission (47%)
  • Sharing personal information about them online (43%)
  • Having a photo or video shared that they wanted to keep private (38%)
  • Receiving unwanted communications that make them uncomfortable (32%).

Nearly half of teens also said that if they encountered content containing extreme violence or hateful views online, they would be able to handle it on their own.

And it’s not that parents don’t care, because they do — and the majority of both teens and parents said they’ve had conversations about online safety.

“It’s gratifying to see that parents are taking on the challenge of educating their children on the fundamentals of online safety, but this survey shows that it’s time to update our approach to the tech talk,” said NCSA Executive Director Michael Kaiser.

“In an era where there’s a new app every day, it’s important that we change the lens of online safety from a tracking and monitoring perspective to a more empowering approach that prepares young people to better respond to the various challenges they will likely encounter in their online lives,” Kaiser said. Kaiser also mentioned that since teens are turning to their friends for support, it’s crucial that they understand not only how to respond, but also when it’s time to get an adult involved.

Read the full report.

More ways to protect yourself and your kids online

According to the survey, most parents and teens are interested in learning more about how to protect their information online and avoid dangerous scams and criminals. Here are some resources that can help:

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Alex Thomas Sadler About the author:
Alex Thomas Sadler is the Managing Editor of Clark.com and Clark Howard Digital Products. Alex is also the host of Common Cents, a new Clark.com series that makes money simple, so you can better understand and take control of your own financial life. Alex graduated from the University of Georgia with bachelor's degrees in ...Read more
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