Back in 2008, McAfee, the maker of the popular antivirus and computer protection software, partnered with several research agencies to conduct a study titled The Youth Online Behavior Study. This study focused on online behavior patterns of children age 12 to 17 - in other words, what sites were they visiting, how were they using online media, how were they getting around safeguards, and what were they hiding from their parents. The study came out roughly in the same time frame as a study by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) and despite the fact that each study focused on a different geographic region, their findings were very similar. Together they provided a very good base of knowledge about the online habits of teens.
Last month, McAfee conducted a followup study called The Secret Lives of Teens. Since two years had passed...and more importantly, since the technological landscape changed so much with the advent of new social media (e.g. Twitter) and the explosion in popularity in chat sites and services like Facebook, McAfee wanted to bring these new technologies into the fold and include relevant statistics. They also were curious how the numbers had changed from 2008 to 2010.
I won't list a bunch of statistics from the study - you can and SHOULD read the study yourself (available below). The bottom line result of the study reinforces the same lesson internet safety advocates have been preaching for years...parents and educators MUST put the time in; they must get involved in the online lives of children and they must extend beyond their comfort zones and keep up to date with evolving and emerging technologies if they want their children to be safe.
What I think lends merit to the study and gives credibility to McAfee is this: here is a company who sells software designed to keep your computer and your family safe from online threats. It would be to their benefit to say that their products "automate" online safety - that their tools make it so easy and do all the work for you. But they don't do that. In fact, their study shows the opposite. No matter what tools you use, you have to be willing to put the time in. No software product or online service will take the responsibility out of the hands of parents and guardians.
Take some time and read this study. It's not horribly long (10 pages), it's very easy to read, and it is loaded with valuable information. I wasn't surprised by any of the findings but I am immersed in these statistics every day. However, there may be some surprises for you.
Kudos to McAfee for taking the time to do the study and making the results freely available to the public.
Click here to read/download the 2010 study The Secret Lives of Teens.
Or you can read a summary of the report on this article from McAfee.