US teens lead the way for shady, risky online behavior

A study from McAfee finds that US teens exhibit riskier online behavior than their peers around the world.

What does your teen do when he or she is online? Do you know? Teens in general partake in riskier online behavior than your average user, but according to a recent study from McAfee--Exploring the Digital Divide--teens in the United States are even more likely to engage in shady online activities.

The new report is a follow up to McAfee's "The Digital Divide: How the Online Behavior or Teens Is Getting Past Parents", released earlier this year. The original survey focused solely on the United States, but the new one expands the scope to include teens in European countries for comparison.

The results might be a bit discouraging for parents of US teens. Teens in the United States lead in almost every category of shady online behavior. Nearly a third of US teens have used the Web to intentionally surf for porn. US teens also "lead" in using mobile devices to cheat on tests, and are tied for second in using the Internet as a platform for cyber bullying--only half a percentage point behind the Netherlands. Go USA?

Give the US teens credit for one thing at least--they're leaders, not followers. The one area where the teens in the United States don't "excel" over their European peers is in response to a survey question about joining in mean or bullying behavior after witnessing it being initiated by someone else. Apparently, if US teens are going to do cyber bullying, it's going to be of their own initiative. Yay?

The most concerning aspect of the study, though, may be the fact that a third of US teens indicated that they strongly agree that they know how to hide their online or mobile activities from their parents. In the study earlier this year, McAfee found that 71 percent of teens have actively tried to hide activity from their parents, and that only 56 percent of parents were aware such activity was going on.

For example, the earlier study found that more than half of US teens routinely clear their browser cache and history, but only 17.5 percent of parents were aware, and almost one in five teens uses private browsing, but only 3.7 percent of parents know about it. McAfee also found that girls are more likely than boys to hide their online behavior from their parents.

Parents can--and should--talk with their children to establish guidelines of acceptable behavior, and most parents would be wise to implement the parental controls that are available to restrict activity. For extra peace of mind, though, Spector Pro and eBlaster are excellent tools for monitoring the online behavior of teens. Parents don't have to actively spy or micromanage, but just having the option of reviewing the logs from Spector Pro or eBlaster, or having the ability to configure instant alerts for specific keywords or more dangerous behaviors gives parents some confidence that their teens are relatively safe online.

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