A scientific study of home Internet use by parents and their teenage children to better understand how they behave online, has been released by GFI. Designed and implemented by a noted polling expert, the nationally-representative 2011 Parent-Teen Internet Safety Report identifies online behaviors of parents and their teenagers related to content, communications and malware exposure. The study finds that while parents and their teens are engaged in a game of “cat-and-mouse” when it comes to controlling home Internet access, both populations regularly engage in online behavior that puts them and the parents’ employers at risk.

In a statistically-valid survey with a ±5% margin of error fielded by Knowledge Networks between March 22 and April 5, 2011, 535 pairs of adults and teenagers (1,070 respondents in total) living in households with Internet access were polled on such subjects as cyber-bullying, teens’ online interactions with strangers, Internet security technology, Internet safety education, visiting adult websites, using work-issued computers at home, and Facebook use.

Key findings from the report include:

  • 15% of all teenage girls surveyed have been bullied online or via text message.
  • 31% of teens admit they have communicated something to someone online that they would not have said face-to-face.
  • 65% of parents say a virus has infected at least one of their home computers, and 62% of these have been either “somewhat” or “serious” problems.
  • 90% of parents who have work computers at home say they’ve used them for non-work related purposes and 37% of these say they let their teens use them as well. Meanwhile, 47% of teens say they have been infected by a virus while using a computer at home.
  • 31% of teenage boys admit to visiting a web site intended for adults, and 53% of all teenagers who have done so say they lied about their age to gain access.
  • 34% of teens say they have created online accounts that their parents do not know about.
  • Only 28% of parents who have antivirus software say they update their virus definitions daily, and 24% are unsure if they are updating these definitions at all.
  • Nearly one third (29%) of teens have been contacted online by a stranger, and 23% of those say they have responded in some way.
  • 36% of parents use web monitoring or web filtering software to keep tabs on their teens’ activities online and to block inappropriate content.

“The Parent-Teen Internet Safety Report is a real eye-opener as to how modern computing introduces families to a host of new dangers that reflect our evolving online lives,” said Alex Eckelberry, general manager of GFI Software’s Security Business Unit. “It is not surprising to see teenagers engage in risky online behavior – just as they will often engage in risky behavior in the physical world. It is surprising, however, to see that parents are often compounding this problem with highly insecure computing practices like letting their children use their work computers, or being lax in updating their virus definitions. As a result, home Internet use is a source of significant risk not only to families but also to employers.”