Youth Culture Window

Teenagers’ Risky Internet Habits

At lunch last week, I asked a student of mine if he’d seen The Dark Knight. “Yeah, I watched most of it online.” When I challenged him on the legality of such a practice, he skirted the question and replied, “Lots of kids are doing it.” According to the latest study on teens’ Internet usage, he’s right!

A fantastic insider’s look at the online lives of children and teenagers is now available through the recently released Survey of Internet and At-Risk Behaviors report. Not only did their research include interviews with over 40,000 children and teenagers, they also interviewed parents and teachers as well.

Unfortunately, their findings easily fit into two categories: “bad news” and “worse news.”

The Bad News…
Teenager’s frequency of Internet use has a direct correlation to the likelihood of them engaging in various types of risky behaviors online: the more they surf, the more they suffer. The risky behaviors studied in the project include academic dishonesty, cyber bullying, use of unauthorized passwords and/or stolen credit card information, piracy of media, lying about age, posting/sending racy photos of themselves or others online, and sending unwanted sexual solicitations to others.

Sadly, this report found that all of these forms of cyber victimization and offense were present in the lives of 7th – 12th graders.

Millions of concerned American parents have tuned in, at one point or another, to NBC’s To Catch A Predator hosted by Chris Hansen. The emphasis of the program is to show parents how easy it can be for an adult to use the Internet to prey on children and teenagers. In spite of the gravity of these kinds of offenses, this new study shows that the majority of online offenses involving teenagers (and children) are perpetrated by peers of the same age group or grade level, not adults.

Here are a few of the ways teenagers were found to afflict themselves and others using the Internet:

7th – 9th Graders


  • 22% illegally downloaded music in the past year


  • 9% accepted an online invitation to meet in-person


  • 10% asked someone online to meet them in-person


  • 3% admitted to asking for nude pics from someone else and another 3% admitted to solicitation of sexual chat online


  • 7% reported circumventing the security measures designed to block or filter access to certain Internet websites


10th – 12th Graders

  • 21% admitted to using a computer or electronic device to cheat on a school assignment in the past year.
  • 65% illegally downloaded music in the past year
  • 34% illegally downloaded movies
  • 30% illegally downloaded software
  • 12% intentionally circumnavigated computer security systems designed to block/filter certain sites

I think we will all agree that these kinds of risky behaviors can bring on a world of hurt into a teen’s life. But…this is only the bad news.

The Worse News…
Millions of parents are clueless about their children’s online behaviors! The report went on to show that not only are kids engaged in these dangerous activities, but Mom and Dad are often unaware.

For instance, the study offers a look into the staggering difference in perception of supervision offered by parents. 66% of high school students reported that parents provide no supervision of their Internet activities. But only 7% of parents reported that they provided no supervision. Uh oh, somebody ain’t telling the truth.

This isn’t the first report that has shown this sort of discrepancy in reality. But where does this ignorance come from? Here’s what the researchers found when they sat down with the parents of these same kids.



  • 25% felt their child knew more about computer technology than they did
  • Only 30% reported using a blocking or filtering software
  • 61% said their children accessed the Internet from “a private place in the home”
  • 14% have caught their children doing something with a computer that they should not have been doing


Frankly, I’m surprised that only 14% of parents have caught their teenagers engaged in these kinds of online behaviors, given that 61% of them allow children to “privately” access the Internet, and less than one third (30%) employ blocking/filtering software.

It’s clear that a “hands off” approach isn’t working. If we want to actively help teenagers reduce (or eliminate) their risky online behavior, we must first be aware of the problem and understand it.


  1. Help parents understand the problem. Discipleship of their child is their responsibility, but given the reports that are linked above, it’s clear that many parents do not understand the nature of the problem and the necessity of their involvement in it to bring about a solution. (always) gives you permission to forward these Youth Culture Windows to parents so they can engage themselves in practical ways (like using filters/blockers and eliminating “private” access to computers in the home).

  2. Teach students about the public impact of their private behavior. Though teens think they can keep their risky online behavior private, often times, that’s simply not the case. There is always fallout for sending hateful messages, viewing online pornography, posting racy pics of themselves, etc. Sin always has a price, even if it’s not felt immediately. Just ask Miley Cyrus. (Here’s a discussion starter, with small group questions, based on her racy pics posted online and in magazines.) Remind teenagers of the incredible importance of being godly and authentic when they logon to the World Wide Web. (Here’s another great resource that deals with teenager’s need for online authenticity.)

Technology isn’t the bad guy. The problems typically occur when teenagers connect to the Internet without being connected to parents at the same time. That’s an easy problem to solve.

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David R. Smith

David R. Smith

David R. Smith is the author of several books including Christianity... It's Like This and speaks to parents and leaders across the U.S. David is a 15-year youth ministry veteran, now a senior pastor, who specializes in sharing the gospel, and equipping others do the same. David provides free resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.

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