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Teens still exercising poor judgment online

A new survey commissioned by Internet security giant, McAfee, Inc., suggests that the online behavior of teens is still a cause for concern and that many are putting themselves in vulnerable positions by sharing too much information with strangers.

The study was conducted by Harris Interactive last month and looked at the online habits of nearly one thousand U.S. teens. Results were weighted for age, gender and ethnicity, and the overall data is representative of U.S. tweens and teens ages 10-17.

Talking to strangers

Despite news headlines warning of the dangers, the study found that teens are still posting too much personal information on the Internet. Sixty-nine percent of 13-17 year-olds have updated their status on social networking sites to include their physical location, and 28 percent of teens regularly chat with people they don’t know, with nearly half of those sharing their first names.

Girls are more likely than boys to chat with strangers online (32 percent v. 24 percent), and 13-15 year-old girls are more likely than boys to have given a description of what they look like (16 percent vs. 7 percent).

“Kids know not to talk to strangers – it’s one of the first lessons you teach them,” said Tracy Mooney, McAfee Chief Cyber Security Mom and mother of three. “But online, there’s a sense of trust and anonymity, so kids let their guard down. Kids would never hand out their name and address to a stranger in the real world, so it’s alarming to see how many kids do that very thing online.”

Cyberbullying remains major problem for teens

In other results, the survey reports that one-in-three teens knows someone who has had mean or hurtful things posted about them online, and 14 percent of 13-17 year-olds admit to having engaged in some form of cyberbullying in the previous four months.

The report clearly suggests that the increased use of social networking sites such as Facebook is opening the door to increased online harassment, as more personal information is now available. Furthermore, incidents such as sending anonymous e-mails and spreading rumors online tend to increase as teens get older, suggesting that the large number of tweens that are now online could face more cyberbullying in years to come.

More ways to get online

The notion that parents can monitor their children’s online activities by placing the home computer in the living room has been ruled out-of-date by the rapid advances in wireless technology. Eighty-seven percent of teens now go online somewhere other than at home, with over 30 per cent of teens accessing the Web through a phone or video game console.

Over 40 percent of teens don’t tell their parents what they do while they are online and 36 percent say they would change their online behavior if they knew their parents were watching.

“Like me, most parents think they have a handle on what kind of online content their children are exploring,” said Mooney. “This report makes it clear we need to be much more involved with helping our kids make the right decisions online. Education is key.”

The full report, “The Secret Online Lives of Teens”, can be accessed on the Web at http://us.mcafee.com/en-us/local/docs/lives_of_teens.pdf

Comment by Ellen Lebowitz, posted 7/6/2010, 11:35 AM:

This article, while somewhat alarming brings up the question,"What are kids looking for online that they can't find any other place?" Are they lonely looking for friendship? Are they bored looking for excitement? I think probably a little bit of both which is, in my opinion, a sign of a troubled culture. Technology is great. It can entertain and it can educate but I feel sorry for the parents who have no idea where their kids are going online and what they're looking for in the digital world
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