JULY 2010 - Teens Take BIG Risks Online, New Study Says
“The Secret Online Lives of Teens” Reveals Dangerous Behaviors and Online Trends
A new report released in June called “The Secret Online Lives of Teens” is a revealing peak at just how much our kids risk when they interact online, and one expert believes it’s more than just a wake-up call.
The study, conducted by Harris Interactive for McAfee, asked 955 American teens (including 593 aged 13-15 and 362 aged 16-17) about their attitudes on Internet privacy. The results are troubling for any parents of teenagers.
Sixty-nine percent of teens freely divulged their physical location 28 percent chatted with strangers.
Of those who chatted with strangers, defined as people they do not know in the offline world:
• 43 percent shared their first name
• 24 percent shared their e-mail address
• 18 percent posted photos of themselves
• 12 percent posted their cell phone number
What's more, girls make themselves targets more often than boys: 32 percent of the girl respondents indicated they chat with strangers online vs. 24 percent of boy respondents, according to the survey.
Mary Kay Hoal, a concerned mom and global media expert who addressed her Internet safety issues by creating a social network exclusively for kids and teens – www.yoursphere.com – believes that this is more than just a wake-up call for parents and teens.
“This study is Pearl Harbor in the war against Internet predators,” she said. “While the headline always changes from cyber bullies to privacy issues, what remains constant, and will continue to, is the risky behavior teens can participate in. If you don’t want your kids participating in certain behaviors offline, why would you permit them online? If you tell them not to talk to strangers at the mall, why allow it on the Internet? Parents need to take notice now, and they need to teach their kids about the dangers of predators. It’s very real.”
Hoal has been studying this issue for more than four years, having created Yoursphere as a response to her own daughter establishing profiles behind her back on social networking sites. Her goal is to create a positive place for kids and teens that offers all the best the Internet has to offer, without the dangers of predators, bullies and others who seek to use the anonymity of the Internet to victimize children.
“As parents, we need to do three things right now,” she said. “We need to learn about the online dangers for kids and teach our kids about them, just as we’d talk to them about drugs, sex, learning to drive a car or ride a bike safely. Next, we need to show our kids how to protect their online and offline privacy, so the predators and bullies are less capable of taking advantage of them. Finally, we need to set up a set of rules for our kids for their online lives that match their rules for their offline lives. The most effective litmus test is this: If the activity or behavior in question is inappropriate offline, then it is inappropriate online, as well.
The combination of anonymity and technology that exists online can create a wide variety of hazards for teens, getting in the way of all the good things that exist for them on the Internet. We need to be able to use basic, common sense safety guidelines to help clear that path.”
Holt is a mother of five children (both biological and adopted, ranging in age from 6 – 19 years old), and faces the same challenges every parent does. After researching the disturbing landscape of social networking sites — including endless inappropriate content and thousands of predators targeting youth —she founded Yoursphere.com, a free and positive place for kids and teens online as well as YoursphereForParents.com, where parents can find tools and information to create a safety-first experience for their families.