Online safety: How to keep your kids from hiding what they're doing

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by Catherine Holland

GMAZ interview by Scott Pasmore

Posted on June 26, 2012 at 11:34 AM

Updated Tuesday, Jun 26 at 11:40 AM

PHOENIX -- According a new study from security technology company McAfee, 70 percent of teens hid what they're doing online from their parents. The 2012 Teen Internet Behavior Study shows teens are doing everything from looking at porn to cheating on their school work -- and their parents have no idea.

In 2010, just 45 percent of teens were fooling their  parents about their online activities.

“While it is not necessarily surprising that teens are engaging in the same types of rebellious behaviors online that they exhibit offline, it is surprising how disconnected their parents are,” said Stanley Holditch, McAfee's online safety expert.

These days, tech-savvy teens -- who were born into the digital world we now live in -- know exactly how to hide those behaviors.

"This is a generation that is so comfortable with technology that they are surpassing their parents in understanding and getting away with behaviors that are putting their safety at risk," Holditch said.

There are a variety of ways teen hide their online behaviors from their parents. According to McAfee's report, the top 10 are:

  1. Clearing the browser history (53%)
  2. Close/minimize browser when parent walked in (46%)
  3. Hide or delete IMs or videos (34%)
  4. Lie or omit details about online activities (23%)
  5. Use a computer your parents don’t check (23%)
  6. Use an Internet-enabled mobile device (21%)
  7. Use privacy settings to make certain content viewable only by friends (20%)
  8. Use private browsing modes (20%)
  9. Create private email address unknown to parents (15%)
  10. Create duplicate/fake social network profiles (9%)

Ken Colburn of Data Doctors said there are some things parents can do to keep an eye on their kids' online activity, and it all starts with a conversation.

"Everybody is looking for that magic bullet -- what piece of software can I install that will do the parenting for me," Colburn said.

Having gone through this with his own now-grown children, Colburn has been where many parents find themselves today.

"The key was getting involved with them early," he said. "If your kids figure out you're clueless about this stuff, you are done. You're sunk in the water."

All of the tools to help you watch your child online require you get his or her permission. If your kids already have dummy accounts, they're already one up on you.

"This cat and mouse thing? They're going to be better at it than you will if they're motivated," Colburn said. "It really comes down to your relationship and that discussion. If you have a pre-teen, now is the time to get involved with them."

The tools Colburn recommended, all of which are free, are Social Shield, Minor Monitor and his all-around favorite, K9 Web Protection.

All three require your child's involvement and permission to access their accounts.

"You have to have that discussion," Colburn said. "This can't be some covert thing you're going to do."

Social Shield is designed to monitor multiple social networking accounts, including Twitter, Facebook and MySpace.

Minor Monitor focuses on Facebook, searching for certain keywords that might indicate a potential issue.

K9 Web Protection allows you to control what happens on your home computer, be it a Mac or a Windows machine. The drawback is that it's only on your computer. It does no good at your child's friend's house or on mobile devices.

"That's why you have to put the filter in the child," Colburn said.

For more information, visit DataDoctors.com.

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