It won’t make the news to report that teens occasionally, or even habitually, indulge in activities of which their parents disapprove. Nor should it come as a surprise that the young folk attempt to hide this behaviour; thus it has ever been as long as there have been parents, teens and the rules that sometimes come between them. However, the ubiquity of device ownership amongst teens (from laptops to tablets to hand-held devices) plus 24-7 internet access is making some problems a little more difficult to deal with.

The online security company McAffee has been conducting surveys into internet use and behaviour. A recent survey found that in 2012, 70 percent of teens (aged 13-17) reported having hidden online behaviour from parents. This was up from 45 percent of teens in 2010. “There’s a lot more to do on the Internet today, which ultimately means there’s a lot more to hide,” said McAfee spokesman Robert Siciliano.

Maybe yes, maybe no. When it comes to forbidden teen behaviour, there has always been a lot to do: smoking, drinking, partying, taking drugs, using porn, hanging out with unsavoury friends, petty crime, gang behaviour, secret dating/sexual relationships. And not all online behaviour is necessarily harmful in itself: the problem arises in managing time and finding balance. At our house, the main challenge seems to be limiting hours spent on Facebook (Mom is guilty too, alas) or computer games.

“The survey found that 43 percent of teens have accessed simulated violence online, 36 percent have read about sex online, and 32 percent went online to see nude photos or pornography.”

Again, while internet availability can exacerbate these issues, they are not unique to cyberspace. You can access all three on TV, computer games, and –at least in Canada—at the National Museum of Science and Technology.

Teens reported using various methods and tactics to avoid being discovered, from clearing browser history to deleting messages or just closing/minimizing windows and web pages when parents enter the room. The survey found that nearly 74 percent of parents trust their teens not to access inappropriate content, while 23 percent said they are not monitoring their children’s online behaviour at all, citing that they feel “overwhelmed by technology.” (With such an attitude, perhaps they feel overwhelmed by parenting as well.)

‘Siciliano said that is no excuse. “Parents can put their foot down and they can get educated…. They can learn about the technology at hand.”’

Well, yes, but that’s actually two different things. I always have the time (and willpower) to exercise my parental authority; learn how to access Netflix via the Wii, not so much.

When all is said and done, the most crucial approach in combating these issues is just knowing your child and being able to talk to him/her. “They can learn about their children’s lives,” Siciliano said. Can parents eliminate bad behaviour, online or otherwise? Not as long as human nature exists. But if you’ve done your utmost to pass your values onto your children; if you’ve tried to foster a healthy parent-child relationship and strive to keep open the lines of communication, you can go a long way in avoiding or minimizing the damage. 

Mariette Ulrich is a homemaker and freelance writer. She lives in western Canada with her husband and six of their seven children. Mariette holds an Honours B.A. in English Literature...