Irish teenagers are more likely to hide their social media activity from their parents than their counterparts from the US and UK, according to a study on online behaviour published on Thursday.
While 27 per cent of Irish teenagers aged 13-18 years old admit to feeling the need to hide what they view online from their parents, only 10 per cent of American and 11 per cent of British teenagers claim to maintain the same level of secrecy.
The Digital Families 2015: Evolving Attitudes Around Social Media and App Use report, carried out by the YouGov market research group for Ask.fm Q&A social network, found nearly half of Irish teenagers prefer to remain anonymous when sharing new ideas and expressing opinions online.
The study found 46 per cent of Irish teenagers prefer not to reveal their identity online for fear of being made fun of, while 36 per cent are more comfortable sharing their feelings when protected by a shield of anonymity. The YouGov research was carried out between May and June 2015 with 2,905 respondents in Ireland, the UK and the US, including 206 Irish teenagers and their parents.
Irish teenagers are more anxious about being laughed at for talking about boyfriends or girlfriends and problems at home online than their British and American counterparts, with only 32 per cent of US respondents concerned about being ridiculed.
By remaining anonymous, teenagers say they can ask questions without looking “dumb”, and feel at ease discussing topics they may not want to talk about face-to-face.
Annie Mullins, Director of EU Safety Operations for Ask.fm, describes anonymity as a “powerful tool” for teenagers when used responsibly.
“They want to discuss difficult topics, whether it be about first relationships, issues with their studies, or problems at home, without the fear of being judged,” said Ms Mullins.
However, no one can be 100 per cent anonymous online, she warns. “Teenagers need to know this, and be clear on the consequences of their actions.”
While teenagers may prefer surfing the web anonymously, 65 per cent of Irish parents worry their child may give away personal information to strangers, putting them at greater risk of being targeted by “adult predators”.
The study found nearly half of UK parents do not monitor their teenagers’ online activity compared to only 20 per cent of Irish parents. Over a third of all parents surveyed admitted knowing their teenage child’s password and logging into their accounts.
While Irish parents are more concerned about online bullying than parents in the UK and US, it appears to be more of a problem in person rather than online. Some 43 per cent of parents said their child had experienced bullying in the physical world while only 13 per cent said their child had suffered cyberbullying.
The study warns parents are not making an effort to keep up with their children's social media interests and trends. A third of Irish parents have never used Snapchat, Twitter and Instagram, three of the top five social networks used by Irish teenagers.
“Given that social media is a part of everyday life, it is more important than ever that conversations about how to behave responsibly are woven into everyday discussion,” said Ms Mullins.
“Teenagers don’t always think through the consequences of their actions and it is no different online; although, as we’ve seen, the ramifications of poor online choices can have particularly ill effects on relationships and future opportunities.”
“There is still much education to be done, and this involves everyone: the networks themselves, parents, teachers and the Government.