BY SHARON NOGUCHI
U.S. teenagers think they are savvy about cybersecurity — so much that nearly one-third skirt school safeguards to access banned content and 29 percent admit to using tech devices to cheat in school — but more than twice that many say they know of classmates who have cheated with devices, a survey found.
The findings of the survey by the computer security firm McAfee are in proportion with a 2009 survey by Common Sense Media — although the exact extent of cheating, and whether it’s changed over the years, is unknown.
Online June survey
It’s easy, students say, to take a cellphone photo of notes or test answers, and then peek at it surreptitiously while taking a test. At the same time, they note, vigilant teachers notice those wayward glances.
McAfee conducted the online survey in June of about 3,902 high school students ages 14 to 18 years old — 1,201 of them in the United States, the rest in Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom.
In general, the percentages of reported cheating and accessing banned sites were higher in the United States.
So was the percentage of teenagers who reported being cyberbullied: 30 percent in the United States, compared with 22 percent in the survey overall.
Of the U.S. students who said they’d been victimized, half of those reported incidents before starting high school.
Those figures are disheartening, considering the effort put into raising awareness of cyberbullying and combating it, said Gary Davis of McAfee. He suggested educating children starting at an early age to help them stay safe online. “They need to understand what they should do to not be a victim.”
Some teenager said the survey may understate the prevalence of cyberbullying.
“It does surprise me, I’d expect it to be higher,” said Julia Kolman, 16, a rising senior at Branham High School in San Jose, Calif.
“A lot of people take to Twitter to create fake accounts or use personal accounts to harass other students.” Kolman herself doesn’t use social media much, but like many of her peers, hears about the repercussions and drama from it.
Among the platforms that the survey indicated are most used for cyberbullying among U.S. teenagers, Facebook appeared at the top with 71 percent, followed by Instagram with 62 percent and Snapchat with 49 percent.
The ease of creating multiple accounts with pseudonyms and the ability to post anonymously create an inviting and unmoderated forum, some teenagers say.
More than 70 percent of U.S. teenagers surveyed said they would feel comfortable talking with an adult at school if they were cyberbullied, the survey reported, and 55 percent said that school officials discuss the problem and are trying to prevent it.
Fewer than half of the teenagers surveyed — 44 percent — said they receive regular online guidance from school, and 46 percent said their parents talk to them about staying safe, although the percentage diminishes to 33 percent with 16-to-18 year olds.
Of the older group, 14 percent said they’ve never had an online safety discussion with their parents.
“The best thing we can do is to really double down on security education,” Davis said. “Starting at as early a stage as possible, when a child goes into kindergarten, we should be teaching fundamentals” to help protect children from bullying.
Of parents, he said, “If you know your kids are on Facebook or Snapchat, you should get on that platform as well. At least then you can have some type of discussion.”
But for many parents, it is not easy to have those conversations. Many don’t even know where to start, nor do they have any idea what their kids are doing in cyberspace.
“When it comes to online things, I think most kids are detached from their parents,” said Michaela Edlin, 16, a junior at Branham High School in San Jose. “For lot of kids, sometimes online is the space they can do whatever and be themselves.”
The survey also found that 31 percent of students surveyed in the United States said they’ve gotten around school restrictions and accessed banned online content, and 45 percent said they could reach social media sites on school-owned devices.
About teenagers’ online cyber lives, “there’s not very much guidance” in schools, Edlin said. She doesn’t remember ever having a lesson on online security at Branham — though it really isn’t a problem there — for now, she said. “It’s like unknown territory.”