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The Computer's On: Do You Know Where Your Children Are?

Seventy percent of teens saying they lie to their parents about where they go, and what they do, online.
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My children would never. Until they do.

One minute you know their every thought -- and certainly their moment to moment whereabouts. Next minute they are crawling, or lying, or driving -- all developmentally necessary, and all leading them into a world where you can't follow.

I was reminded of this last week when the video of bus monitor Karen Klein and her tormentors went viral. I know none of the specifics of the middle schoolers in question, and certainly nothing about their parents, but I can't imagine that a one of them would have suspected that this was precisely what their child was doing on the way to school. (In fact the father of one, Robert Helm told Inside Edition that "This is not the way I raised my kids. I never would have in my wildest dreams think that they were capable of anything like this.") And they don't seem to have thought that their child would ever make sure the entire sickening incident was videotaped and put on YouTube.

No, the parents "never would have thought", and today the security technology company McAfee tells us that our kids are lying to us regulrly about what they are doing online. Well, 70 percent of them are -- an increase from 45 percent since the company's last survey two years ago. And their parents, in turn, are clueless -- nearly half believe their teens tell them "everything they do online."

To wit:

How much time do you think your teen spends online each day? Parents answered about three hours a day; teens said it was, on average, more than five. (The survey included interviews with 1,004 teens ages 13-17, and 1,013 parents of teens in that age group.)

How often do your teens check their social media accounts? Are they on Facebook or its equivalent "daily"? Forty-eight percent of parents said so, compared with 60 percent of teens. "Constantly"? Only 22 percent of parents think their children are on these accounts nonstop, while 41 percent of teens say they are.

What are they doing during all this time? Only 12 percent of parents think viewing pornography is involved, while 43 percent of teens report doing this weekly if not more frequently. They are asking question about sex, too -- 36 percent have looked up information about STDs and pregnancy.

But it is harmless fun, right? Just another place to hang with friends? 78 percent of parents believe that, thinking that their children can't get into serious trouble online. The reality depends on what you think of as serious trouble, but surprising percentage of teens report that they have argued with friends (35 percent), gotten in trouble at school (25 percent), ended friendships (20 percent), feared for their safety (7 percent) and even gotten into physical fights (5 percent) because of words exchanged virtually.

This isn't actual bullying though, is it? Ten percent of parents think their children have been targets of cyberbullies, while 23 percent of teens say they have, 62 percent have said they've witnessed incidents, and 25 percent admit to joining in by posting "mean" comments.

You get the idea.

So here, courtesy of McAfee, is a cheat sheet (pun intended) of the ways that your kids fool you:

Clearing the browser history (53%)
Closing or minimizing browser when parent walks in (46%)
Hiding or deleting IMs or videos (34%)
Lying or omitting details about online activities (23%)
Using a computer that parents don't check (23%)
Using an internet-enabled mobile device (21%)
Using privacy settings to make certain content viewable only by friends (20%)
Using private browsing modes (20%)
Creating private email address unknown to parents (15%)
Creating duplicate or fake social network profiles (9%)

If you don't know what some of those mean, or how your child might go about doing them, then you should probably assume they ARE doing them, no? Since half of teens say they would change their online behavior if they knew their parents were watching, it makes sense to start.

Many of us are trying, McAfee says -- by setting parental controls (49 percent), knowing our childrens passwords (44 percent) and taking away the computer at signs of trouble. But 23 percent told researchers that they "are not monitoring their children's online behaviors" because they "are overwhelmed by technology" and the same percentage saying "don't have the time or energy to keep up with everything these teens do online."

And that is perhaps the most concerning statistic of all.