Monday, 15 May 2017

More kids are hiding their online activity from parents

To coincide with Privacy Awareness Week, new research from McAfee and Life Education reveals Australian families are engaging in fewer conversations about cyber safety, and kids are hiding their online activity from their parents, potentially risking their online privacy and safety.

Despite our increasingly complex cyber world, new research has found families are talking less about online safety compared to previous years, potentially putting children at risk of cyberbullying and online abuse.

A recent study by McAfee and Life Education found that, across the country, conversations about online safety between parents and their children has slipped 23 per cent in the last year. At the same time, trust between children and parents is at an all-time low with 41 per cent of children hiding their online activity from their parents.

The study also found that only 32 per cent of children say they learn about cyber safety from school, pointing to a potential gap in our younger generation’s understanding of online safety.

The findings, released to mark the start of Privacy Awareness Week, have sparked a call to action among parents and children about the importance of talking about online privacy and safety.

Alarmingly, the study found that kids use unreliable factors to determine how trustworthy websites and apps are. The top three reasons children trust websites and apps included: ‘friends are using it’ (83 per cent); ‘it’s free’ (45 per cent); and ‘how it looks’ (44 per cent).

Unsurprisingly, terms and conditions were least relied on for Aussie kids (17 per cent).

The research also found:

  • When it comes to social media usage, for children aged 8 – 12, YouTube (76 per cent) was the most used social media platform, followed by Facebook (46 per cent) and Snapchat (39 per cent) – despite the legal age for all three being 13.
  • A growing lack of trust exists from parents towards their children. Four out of five parents (82 per cent) admitted they have attempted to find out what their child does online, and 36 per cent even go as far as monitoring their children’s online behaviour by searching their devices.
  • Kids are not being that transparent with their parents either. 41 per cent of children admit to hiding their online activity from their parents, which has increased from 37 per cent in 2015.
  • The most common method that children use to hide their online activity is to minimise their browser when an adult walks in (23 per cent). More are now clearing their browser history after use, (21 per cent) and deleting messages (18 per cent) compared to 16 per cent and 16 per cent respectively in 2015.
  • For those families that do discuss online safety with their children, the topics remain the same as in previous years: cyberbullying (69 per cent), privacy settings (59 per cent) and identity theft (51 per cent). But the degree to which they are discussed is once again down from 84 per cent, 75 per cent and 66 per cent, respectively, in 2015.

Mother of four and McAfee Cybermum Alex Merton-McCann said the drop in cyber safety conversations between parents and their children is seriously concerning.

“As their digital world expands so rapidly, we should be doing all we can to help our young digital natives learn how to assess what – and what not – to trust,” Ms Merton-McCann said.

“It’s worrying to hear that more kids are hiding what they do online from their parents.As with most things in life, learning about cyber safety starts at home, we shouldn’t rely entirely on schools to educate our kids. We parents really need to ensure we’re having these important conversations and establishing clear rules to protect our kids when they’re online,” continued Ms Merton-McCann.

McAfee and Life Education, Australia’s largest non-government provider of health education, have worked together for five years to increase cyber education aimed at young Australians. Life Education supports the research findings from McAfee and agrees parents and children need to start and maintain a consistent dialogue about cyber safety at home and in the classroom.

Kellie Sloane, CEO of Life Education NSW said, “Since McAfee began its cyber education partnership with Life Education in 2013, the program has reached more than 349,130 students in over 8,400 Australian schools. Our cyber safety modules have become increasingly the most popular modules as parents understand the need for their children to be educated on cyber safety.

“Surprisingly, this research found that only 32 per cent of children say they learn about cyber safety from school. Our aim is to encourage more schools to sign up to Life Education and ultimately increase the awareness of cyber safety among young children in schools,” Ms Sloane said.

Life Education in partnership with McAfee offer two modules, It’s Your Call and bCyberwise, which enable young children and adolescents to make educated decisions around how to stay safe online. The bCyberwise module includes information on reporting cyber bullying, information sharing online, and is accredited by the Office of Children’s eSafety Commissioner.

  • About the author

    Life Education NSW

    For over 35 years, Life Education's specially trained educators have visited schools around Australia.

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