McAfee Survey: Parental Input on Tech Safety Declines as Kids Get Older

It’s natural for parents to gradually extend a child more freedom and responsibility as that child matures. Finding the magic formula of how much to hang on and how much to let go and in what areas is the holy grail of parenting tween or teenager.

A recent McAfee survey echoed this dilemma when it comes to digital parenting. According to the survey, Cybersecurity 101: Teens in the Classroom, parents are starting off strong with educating kids on cyber security, but as they get older that education begins to taper off.

Highlights of the survey that polled more than 3,900 high school students (9th-12th grade) from around the world include:

  • 38% of the parents regularly talk with their (14 to 18-year-old) children about how to stay safe
  • 50% of the parents of 14 to 15 year- old children regularly talk about staying safe online, but for 16 to 18-year-old children, this percentage has dropped to 30%.

The survey also revealed that 14% of 16 to 18-year-olds have never talked with their parents about how to stay safe online.


These numbers are concerning for several reasons. First, the ages 16-18 are critical in so many digital safety areas namely: cyberbullying, online reputation management (college prep), catfishing, cheating in the classroom, and distracted driving. Second, if you consider today’s headlines, many of the digital missteps in cybersecurity happen to kids in this age group. And third, we know that as much as our children like to think they know everything there is to know about online safety (and many other subjects), their still-developing brains and lack of maturity and life experience makes them vulnerable to digital disasters.

With new information comes the power to change. So if you fall into the category of a parent who eases up on digital safety now that your kids are getting older, put the brakes on that thinking.

5 discussions to reignite with your teen:

  1. Cyberbullying. The act of bullying online comes in many forms. It can come in a threat of physical harm, in passive aggressive statements, in racist or hate comments, in coded ranking systems, and in endless forms of exclusion. Because Snapchat, Instagram, and texting are where teens hang out all day, being bullied in these very public online spaces can become an emotional torture chamber for a teen. Be aware of changes in your child’s behavior, be available, and be intentional about noticing social changes such as new friends coming into the picture and friend group rifts. Simply being available to talk and being aware of your child’s emotional changes goes a long way in combating this critical issue.
  2. Cybersecurity in the classroom. It’s a boring subject for teens to discuss, but cybersecurity in school is a big deal. Rules are in place for a reason, namely to keep kids safe and focused on learning. So, reiterating online privacy, respect for technology, and using technology responsibly while in school can head off a lot of issues — like cheating and privacy issues — this school year.
  3. Depression and technology. It’s startlingly but true: Research suggests a link between spending extended time on social media and experiencing depression. Also alarming is that suicide among teen girls between the ages of 15 and 19 has hit a 40-year high, according to new data released by the National Center for Health Statistics. Know the signs of depression and the link between depression and social media.
  4. Distracted Driving. This may be the most important, consistent conversation you can have with your teen since distracted driving is now the #1 cause of teen crashes. Although many teen drivers think they can get away with distracted driving, it only takes seconds to cause a catastrophic car accident.
  5. Balance. There is a very real condition, and it’s called smart phone addiction. Know the signs of tech addiction in your child and be unafraid to step in and make the necessary changes. Get intentional about helping your child strike a balance between tech use and real life experiences. Racking up likes on Instagram can be a thrill but nothing — absolutely nothing — compares to venturing outside and enjoying nature, exercising, doing something creative, connecting with friends face-to-face, and learning how to be fully present each day.

In short, teens need parental input more than ever especially when it comes to the many emotional, physical, and mental issues technology ushers into a teen’s world. So, don’t be afraid to repeat yourself. Don’t apologize for setting boundaries. And, never hold back when it comes to helping handle the very important issues that affect your child’s safety and emotional well-being. Parental influence is short lived and so very critical in the life of a digital teen.

Toni Birdsong is a Family Safety Evangelist to McAfee

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