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Kids and teens are putting themselves and their online security at risk, according to a new survey by McAfee, and a new national education program aims to fix this, involving parents in the education.

McAfee has this week announced the findings of a study titled “The Secret Life of Teens”, highlighting the online activities of kids and teenagers in Australian households. The survey asked 500 teens and 500 parents what they were doing online, how they dealt with cyberbullying, and a whole bunch of other little things on their wheelings and dealings of the Internet, with some of the results revealing some startling information.

With network manufacturers telling us that almost every device will be net-connected within two years, it should come as no surprise that our kids and teens are spending a lot of time online, with the study highlighting an average of 3.6 hours per day for every teen.

Even that number is probably a touch low, given how much social networking, gaming, and research for homework kids are actually doing, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg for some surprising statistics revealing what kids are doing online.

According to the numbers, 72% of teenagers are online using the social networking giant Facebook every day, with many of these accounts showing a home address, home phone number, and mobile number on their accounts, putting not just their online lives at risk, but also welcoming the very real possibility of a physical encounter with disastrous consequences.

In fact, the numbers are even more surprising, with many teenagers adding strangers as friends, chatting privately, sharing photos, and even going so far as meeting them in public.

“At a real behavioural level, [kids and teens] don’t get it,” said Dr. Justin Coulson. “Once they feel they’ve had some interaction, they actually think they now know that person and they’re safe.”

In fact, according to the research, one in 20 kids will meet with a stranger, when they should probably be talking about what’s happening online with their parents.

“We’ve all been teenagers and we’re all going to have secrets,” said Dr. Coulson. “Kids are keeping secrets because they’re doing the wrong thing and don’t feel safe telling someone.”

To help inform teens, pre-teen, and children of some of these dangers, McAfee has this week announced a partnership with Life Education Australia to bring a cyber-education program to schools and students around the country, to help curb the dangers and encourage more precautions online.

“According to McAfee’s research, Australian teens are spending more time online than ever before, and being exposed to dangerous activities and behaviour,” said Steve Redman, President of McAfee for the Asia Pacific region. “The report tells us that more than 50 percent of Australian teens have witnessed cruelty and cyber bullying, and a staggering 68 per cent are posting personal content online, exposing them to cyber criminal activity.”

With plenty of kids and teens engaging in social networks, the battle lines have changed dramatically over the past decade, bringing what once was a playground fight to a permanent online discussion room. The numbers are pretty damning, with 91% surveyed witnessing cruel behaviour on Facebook, some of which either joined in or did nothing to help.

Together, McAfee and Life Education Australia aim to educate from an early age and get students understanding what’s right and what’s wrong on the world wide web.

“Children’s online behaviour becomes entrenched very early on and if they are not properly educated about cyber safety, they will not be prepared to handle the situations they will certainly face online as teenagers,” said Redman.

The program, which rolls out across Australia from February next year (2013) will also seek to bring parents in on the education, tackling a topic that parents may be having issues addressing with their kids.

“Parents need to wake up,” said Alex Merton-McCann, Cybermum and blogger for McAfee. “The disparity between what parents think their kids are looking for and what they’re actually looking for is great.”

McCann – who runs a blog for parents on cyber-security – suggests some easy tips for talking to kids about the topic, with communication being the key. Parents should get involved with the online lives of their kids, and they should ask questions, coming up with rules together.

“We need to take it one step further and get involved in our kids’ online lives,” said McCann. “They think they’re all over it, but they don’t understand the risks.”

McAfee’s program with Life Education Australia aims to roll out in February 2013 across the country with programs for both students and their parents.