What Kids Do on the Web Versus What They Tell Parents

Ahh, a timely post.  Like many parents, we’ve been in “back to school” mode.   I just watched my 15 year old head off to start her sophomore year, my 13 year old begin his 8th grade, and my youngest join the ranks of middle schoolers.  They’re growing up fast, and I’m beginning to see that it’s even faster than I thought.

New research has just come out to shed some light on what teens are telling their parents about their internet usage and how teens are really using the internet.  Funny, but there’s a big gap here.  I didn’t surprise you, did I?  Well, this might:

For instance, 49% of parents say their child was 13 or older before they began unsupervised surfing, yet only 14% of teens say they waited that long.  4% of parents say their children check social networking sites more than 10 times a day, but 22% of teens say they exceed that amount. 23% of parents say their children log in more than once a day, but the truth is that 51% of kids do. What’s even worse, 12% of teens with Facebook or MySpace pages admit their parents don’t know about the account.

That’s scary.

18% of teenagers say someone has posted a humiliating picture of them on the web or wrote something that humiliated them.  Of the 18%, almost 25% of them sought revenge.  Then there’s the 19% of teens who say they’ve been “cyberbullied”.  Most of our kids are not aware that once they post something online, it’s likely there for life — regardless of how hard they try to remove it.

Here are some interesting numbers:

Online Teen Behavior

Online Teen Behavior

I insist to my kids that I be one of their “friends” or “followers”.  If I find out I’m not, they’re done, plain and simple.  To make sure, I monitor their names with google alerts and even track Twitter to make sure I have that covered.  Fortunately, I’m their friend.

Here’s two more charts to scare you.

Online Activity

Online Activity

Sites Teens Visit

Sites Teens Visit

The point here is that our teenagers are likely far more skilled at using the internet than we believe — probably even more skilled than we are.  They know what they’re looking for and how to find it.  That knowledge, when blended with immaturity, is a recipe for trouble.

So stay close.  Spot check their habits.  Use alert systems to monitor their postings.  And keep up with them as best you can.


  1. Kapy
    September 12, 2009

    I know this won’t come as a shock to you but I’m 17 and I disagree.

    I really think it depends on your childs age on how closely you monitor them and their internet doings. Admittedly I’ve been to sites that I probably shouldn’t have gone to but I honestly dont think its adversely affected me. I’m 17 and taking college courses in Web design and Statistics all because I did all of those things on the internet that my parents would consider bad.

    I learn HTML to learn how to hack computers. While I have matured and no longer harbor my intents I still code HTML and love doing it. I’ve even made a few bucks here and there making websites for professional photographers and companies.

    I dont think my grammar and reasoning skills would be as good as they are if I have not been doodling around on adult sites that explicitly wrote inappropriate material. Honestly if I was a parent and I found out my 13 year old had been on pornographic site would I be angry? Sure. If they where 15? Probably not. It may be taboo but I really feel like in this day and age where the information super highway is so common place for our children that pornographic material is acceptable as a part of growing up just as masturbation is.

    It all depends on age. But I really feel that you tracking your kids on myspace, facebook and twitter is a little bit overprotective for the older one. In fact for a time I actually made a false myspace page under a female name and account, with pictures of your everyday 12-13 year old girl and tried to find a creepy old man to bust. Couldn’t do it. I found plenty of older people to talk to but every single one of them told me the same thing: “be careful theres bad people on the internet.” I’m not saying that my data or experiences are conclusive but I really tried to find someone and I couldn’t do it. I think it would be difficult for a young child to stumble upon some one like that when I actively looked for it. Obviously it happens. We know that, but I just don’t think its as common of an occurrence as people may be led to believe. In fact I think its actually decreased in popularity because of all of the heat the media and parents give it. All in all its more likely for your child to be nabbed from school or a park then it is for them to meet a rapist online.

    I don’t say all of this to make you change your ways, but I do say it as a warning. My parents tried everything they could to keep me techmologicaly impaired from those “bad” websites and all it did was push me to become batter than them at all of it. I’m now the household computer technician. It all has its pros and cons and please do continue to do what you see fit with your children but take my words as advice and testimony.

  2. September 13, 2009


    What you wrote is not a shock at all. Many parents are beginners when it comes to the web, so it’s no surprise that their children know how to navigate the web better.

    The point here isn’t so much to make kids stop. That’s like parents telling those young kids who want to smoke that they forbid it. Forbid it where, and when? We can’t watch our children 24/7, so what they do on their own is really up to them. Scary at times, yes. But that’s how it is.

    As parents though, we are committed to doing all we can to limit the introduction of troublesome content into our kids’ lives. We tell you to stay away from neighborhoods and even certain “friends”. We advise you to do your homework. We advise you to eat right.

    Will you? That choice is entirely yours.

    You seem pretty knowledgeable about what the web world can do to you. But your parents (and all parents) cannot possibly know all that’s out there that can cause you or any other child problems. So we do our best.

    This post was meant to make sure parents are aware that their kids are likely doing far more inappropriate things (in our standards) online than they’re letting on or that their parents envisioned, and to make certain that if desired, they have ways to confront the issues. If the behavior is deemed “wrong” by the parents, they have choices to help them achieve their goals — but really no iron clad solutions. As you pointed out, there are too many web savvy kids for us to eliminate all threats.

    But just because parents cannot keep you totally clear of all trouble, whether it be internet related or simply friend related, doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try to at least educate their children about the risks. They’re huge. And parents must hold themselves responsible to a certain degree for what their children do online. If their kids make a mistake, it could cost a life. That’s a pretty big responsibility.

    Best of luck to you as you continue to learn the workings of the web. It will carry you far, but you must avoid problematic enticements to make the most out of your knowledge.


  3. Kapy
    September 13, 2009

    Now thats something I can agree with. And do appreciate the respect that most people on this topic don’t give me because of my age.

    It is good to educate children on the threats of the internet because yes there are a lot, and not just from predators. Its only one simple google search to find instructions on how to manufacture weapons and drugs.

    I do agree with the meat of the post that most children and teenagers are not going to tell their parents what they do on the internet. I only felt compelled to respond because of your policies on web blockers. As I said in my first comment I don’t expect you to change your ways, nor do I want you to. You should raise your children the way you see fit and integrity in commitment is better than misguided judgement. Not say what you do is wrong, by all means it could be the best way to raise a child, but it’s not what would do.

    I respect your views and your choices and I thank you again for the respect and quick response. I hope that my posts reflect that respect to you, and if I haven’t I apologize. Thank you for your time.


  4. September 14, 2009


    I appreciate the comments, and do indeed believe that you wrote from a foundation of respect. I’m glad you saw it was mutual.
    Keep studying, and please use your brain to conquer life’s important issues — our challenges need to be met by people like you, now and in the future. And always, always be careful.