The Internet and Today’s Youth: Protecting our Future

May has been another very busy month packed with events and plenty of travel! I spent a few days with some of our best sales people at the McAfee President’s Club in Venice and Croatia, followed by a short stop at the McAfee Executive Summit in Frankfurt where I had the pleasure of catching up with some of our German customers following my presentation to the attendees. There was no stopping there – the day after the Executive Summit I travelled straight back to Amsterdam for the McAfee Labs day at our Executive Briefing Centre. It was here that some of our EMEA journalists learned of the launch of McAfee LiveSafe – McAfee’s vision for consumer security. The launch of this new service got me thinking about one particular demographic of consumer that is particularly vulnerable to threat: children.

Today’s youth has been brought up with the advent of the internet. As a generation of ‘digital natives’ they often know more about the ins and outs of online than their parents do.  While it’s important for children to embrace new technologies and the benefits they can bring, there are dangers in cyberspace that both children and parents need to be aware of. In many cases, parents feel intimidated about how technologically advanced their kids are and refrain from enforcing rules that are imperative for protection as kids surf and socialise online. But at what cost?

As a father of two, child internet safety is front of mind for me and I recently stumbled across some new research on the subject as I was travelling. Parenting website Netmums questioned 825 children aged between seven and 16 on their internet usage and 1,127 parents on their perceptions of kids’ online habits.

The study found that more than a quarter of children pretend to be older to access certain websites, with an additional half of respondents stating they have accidentally accessed inappropriate content online. What’s worse is that almost 30% of the parents questioned admitted to allowing their children to access the Internet without restrictions or supervision.

We commissioned our own research last year, conducted by OnePoll, which revealed similar findings. We questioned 2,000 UK parents of children aged 5 to 15 on their kids use of the internet and found:

  • 82% of five year olds already own or use an internet enabled device
  • 60% of parents frequently let their child surf the web without adult supervision
  • One in six parents have been shocked to discover their child viewing unsuitable content
  • Only 45% of parents have had a serious conversation with their child about the dangers of online; a third believe the media is responsible for educating children
  • 50% of parents haven’t taken any sort of preventative measures to ensure their child can’t access inappropriate content

There’s a clear disconnect between what children are doing online and what parents believe they are getting up to. More work needs to be done to redress the balance, and McAfee is committed to the cause. In November 2012 we launched an Online Safety for Kids programme in the UK, following success for the scheme in the US. The aim of the programme is to raise awareness of the potential risks and share knowledge about how to stay safe online. Our staff volunteer to teach online safety courses at schools in the communities where they live and work, alongside an online portal that provides schools, parents and kids with handy tips and tricks on how to safely navigate cyber space.

In addition to the programme, we had our annual community day on the 16th May, which saw McAfee employees going into schools to talk to youngsters about the dangers of the online world. This is an initiative that is very much close to my heart and, unlike the rest of my work, is something that I bring home to share with my own kids.

In order for children to take advantage of the benefits of the internet, parents have a key role to play in educating children on the dangers that lurk online. Security software is available that can restrict what kids see and do on the web, taking a lot of pressure off parents to stay current with every new risk. McAfee Family Protection is an example and is built to empower parents to say ‘yes’ to their children’s online activity, knowing they will be safe as they learn and explore.

But it’s also important that parents get involved with their kids’ online lives, and make sure they know how to act and react to what they see on the web. This should include frequent one-to-one conversations on how to practice safe online behaviour, whether they are researching their latest school project or chatting to friends. In playing an active role, parents can have peace of mind that their children are safe, protected and informed about the risks.



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