Do Youth Know About Internet Security and Privacy?

by Larry Richman on June 23, 2008

Teenagers typically feel they know much more about technology than their parents. But do they really understand the issues of security and privacy on the Internet?

It goes way beyond identity theft. What about computer ethics? What should your children do if they stumble across an adult site? Do they understand the risks of Internet predators? Youth often have to learn about the pitfalls of the Internet on their own because parents and schools tend not to know how to address the subject of security and privacy on the Internet.

“Every kid, when they reach a certain age, [should] have ‘The Talk’ with their parents,” said one16-year-old. “We need to have the same sort of discussion in terms of privacy. The majority of teenagers know about the sexual diseases out there because of this conversation that they have with their parents or because they have the talk in the school in sex ed. I think [security] needs to be addressed the same as well.”

A major problem for kids is that they are, in general, far ahead of their parents in terms of internet usage. Teenagers blog regularly, use instant messaging to keep up with their friends, and are usually able to circumvent any computer security measures at school, said a recent panel of five teenagers.

“I think it is hard for the parents and educators because we are moving at a different pace than they are… no offense,” said one teenager. “It feels like we are done and on to the next thing by the time other people are aware of it.”

Some students are still not aware of the dangers of an open blog under their real names that include many real life details. “If you want to give out your first name, then go ahead, nobody is going to stop you,” said one 17-year-old. “But you should know that there are [dangerous] types of people out there.”

The teenagers had mixed opinions on how much should be taught at school regarding Internet safety. Some believed that ethics in the digital world should be a required topic, while others thought that only basic safety should be taught. However, they did agree that parents and schools should be talking about the Internet with their kids far sooner than they do today – by the age of 10 at the latest, they said.

Sometimes it is tricky for parents to balance their fear for their children’s safety with what teenagers may see as violations of privacy.

“My mom has blocked the TV, the computer and I’m not allowed to listen to a lot of radio stations right now,” said one teen. “I really feel like she doesn’t trust me anymore. She hasn’t demanded my password, but I know that she knows it, and I’m pretty sure she has gone onto my computer.”

Many teens easily find ways around their parents’ security measures. Some have e-mail accounts that the parents don’t know about in order to protect their privacy. “My parents wanted to check my computer, so I stopped using that computer,” said a 17-year-old boy. “I use the computers at school. There are things that they don’t need to know.”

The general feeling among the teenagers, however, was that parents should talk about the issues with their kids. “The most important thing is don’t talk down to us,” said one young man. “For the most part, we are not dumb.”

Source: Teenagers want computer security lessons

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