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Study: Teens would change online behavior if watched

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(Photo illustration by Josh Peckler – jpeckler@shawmedia.com)
A new study by Internet security company McAfee has many parents on high alert. It shows 70 percent of teenagers hide what they're doing online and highlights the top 10 ways they are doing it.

Jeannie Rygiel says she isn’t as strict as some moms, but she sets rules and expects them to be obeyed.

But like most parents, when it comes to the Internet, the Spring Grove mom doesn’t usually check up on her kids.

“We know most of their friends and their parents, so I think [with] this being a small community, things come back to us pretty quickly,” Rygiel said.

Kids, however, are taking advantage of their parents, according to a study titled “The Digital Divide: How the Online Behavior of Teens is Getting Past Parents,” sponsored by online security company McAfee.

Half of teens surveyed said they would change their online behavior if they knew their parents were watching, and more than 70 percent have done something to hide their online activity.

Rygiel and her husband, Tony, raised five boys. Their youngest, Dan, is the only one still at home.

He is 16 years old and attends Richmond-Burton High School.

The boys weren’t allowed cellphones until they reached high school, and even when they got them, they weren’t smartphones. None of them got computers until they graduated.

Allowing children to have computers in their bedrooms is one of the worst things parents can do, said Mark Peloquin, co-owner of LeadingIT Solutions of Crystal Lake.

His company helps schools implement computer security systems that keep kids off inappropriate websites.

“It’s getting a lot harder now, especially with smartphones and iPads,” he said. “We haven’t even begun to look at that – how to lock those down – yet.”

Parents can’t necessarily afford the fancy programs and filters that schools use, but the McAfee study shows about half of parents aren’t implementing the easiest-to-use safeguard: parental controls. Depending on the program, they can be used to stop access to inappropriate sites, limit time spent online or monitor online conversations, among other things.

That’s because a lot of people don’t know how to enable the controls, Peloquin said.

Holly Kelly, a Spring Grove mother of two elementary students, remembers a “whoops” moment her 10-year-old daughter had online when she typed something into a search engine and sexual content popped up.

She said she used the accident as an opportunity to talk to her daughter about the Internet and what’s safe.

“That really got our conversation going,” she said.

Kelly is a teacher at Harrison School in Wonder Lake. She works with pre-kindergartners through eighth-graders.

Her education background has helped her have age-appropriate conversations with her children. Conversations with her 7-year-old son tend to be more about appropriate language, she said.

She said she isn’t as worried about what kids can stumble across online as she is about what information they put on the Web themselves.

Her kids are too young to be on Facebook – she said she doesn’t know when the right age is yet, and they’re not allowed unsupervised access to the Internet – but some of her former students are.

She said she’s amazed at some of the pictures former students put on Facebook and has emailed some of them, cautioning them about potential ramifications, she said.

It all comes down to “old-fashioned parenting,” Peloquin said.

Rygiel agreed.

“We’ve been involved in everything they do, and I think that makes a difference,” she said.

She also pointed to their faith, which she said helps kids give extra thought to whether they should do something.

“I don’t want to represent that my kids don’t do anything wrong, but I do believe that our faith is a big thing,” she said. “I tell them that I’m not always watching, but God is.”

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