The answer is probably “yes”. According to a McAfee survey last year, 71% of teens admit to hiding some part of their internet activity from parents. It could be harmless (chatting with a girlfriend) or it could be something important like cyberbullying or browsing adult content. If you’re a parent wondering whether there is something about your teen’s online activity that he’s not telling you, below are some things to look for. Don’t forget about their phones. Most things that teens can do on a computer, they can also do an a cell phone.
Deleting browser history – If you check the browser history (by clicking the “History” tab in most browsers) on the computer that your teen uses, and it’s empty, that’s probably not an accident. He might have been looking at something embarrassing, or adult-oriented content. Feel free to ask him.
Minimizing or closing browser window – If your teen abruptly minimizes a window or closes out his browser window when you walk into the room, he is probably doing something he doesn’t want you to know about.
Deleting text messages – Check your teen’s text messages. If the message log is empty, one of two things have happened. Either he recently deleted them, or he exclusively uses a messaging app such as WhatsApp or Kik.
Using more than one browser – If your teen uses a shared computer, and has something to hide, he probably doesn’t use the browser that you use. If you’re using Internet Explorer he is probably using Firefox or Chrome. You can check the browsing history on those too.
Delete search history – If your teen has turned off “Web History” in the Google settings, it’s a red flag. If Web History is turned on but the history log is empty, he has deleted it. You can ask him what he has been searching for.
Using a proxy or in private browsing – If your teen is using an anonymity software proxy such as Tor, or “in private browsing” using Google Incognito Mode or something similar, in effect he is hiding everything. Some people have a desire to remain out of the sight of the government and advertisers, and others browse anonymously for reasons you wouldn’t approve of.
More than one email address – I’m sure that you know your teen’s email address. Does he have another one other than the one that you use to contact him. This does not necessarily have to be a red red flag. Some people use a throwaway email address to sign up for things and avoid subsequently getting spam. It could be, though, that he uses it to communicate with people you don’t know about.
Duplicate social media accounts – Some teens are very aware of the fact that parents, college admissions officers and school officials might check them out on social media. If they’re willing to put in enough effort, that might have two accounts on Facebook or other networks – one clean one and one that their friends actually use to connect. It’s good news that college admission folks won’t see the “bad” stuff, but neither will you if you go looking.
With teens who are very active online, it is nearly impossible for parents to stay on top of everything they are doing. A teen who has already been hiding activity is unlikely to fess up completely, but if your teen knows that you are paying attention and care about what he’s up to online, that alone should be a good first step toward him acting more responsibly, or not slipping into bad habits that he might regret later.
Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring teen internet activity.