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TheStreet Open House

You Won't Believe What Your Kid Is Doing Online

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- It's no secret that kids don't always adopt a "full disclosure" mindset when revealing their habits to mom and dad, but that gulf grows wider on the topic of online usage behavior by teenagers, according to McAfee, the Internet data security firm.

The study, looking at teen Web users in Ireland, estimates that 20% have "accessed inappropriate content online" that bothered them. McAfee also says that while 24% of Irish parents think they know everything their kids are doing on the Internet, they're largely being misled (for lack of a better term).

According to the firm's Digital Divide study:

  • 48% of kids have looked at sites their parents would disapprove of and 56% have viewed a Web video "they knew their parents would not approve of."
  • More than half of teens have posted "risky or inappropriate" comments or photos on the Internet.
  • About 70% of teens say they are "hiding their online activities" from their parents.
  • 53% of teens admit to "wiping clean" their web browser history.
  • 49% travel away from their home to view inappropriate Web content.

Worse, 11% of teenagers have met up with a stranger they met online, and 23% use the Web to search for pornography.

Ethical problems surface as well, with 33% of teens admitting downloading the answers to school tests and 45% to pirating music.

"We believe the findings from this study will come as quite a shock to some parents, and we hope it will encourage them to take immediate action to protect their children," said Paul Walsh, a vice president of engineering McAfee. "It is clear that a huge gap exists between what teens are doing online and what parents are aware of. Parents must take an active role to ensure their teens are practicing safe online behavior."

McAfee recommends that parents:

  • Launch some regular one-on-one conversations with their children to make them aware of the choices they're making online and the risks and consequences of their actions
  • Set up parental controls and monitor them closely to make sure they aren't compromised by their kids.
  • Be direct about those installed monitors and controls implemented on their laptops, tablets, and smartphones, as many teens "would think twice about their online activities if they knew parents were watching," McAfee says.

Even as kids learn more and more about navigating the online world so their parents can't find them, adults can't let up on reining their kids in online.

"Having grown up in the online world, teens are often more online savvy than their parents, making it difficult for parents to provide the necessary guidance, and therefore, reinforcing teens' online vulnerability," Walsh says. "But parents cannot give up -- they must challenge themselves to become familiar with the complexities of the online universe and educate themselves about the various threats that await their teens online."

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