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6 Ways Your Teen Might be Hiding Things From You Online


Think you have a pretty good idea of what your teen is up to online? Don’t be so sure. Research indicates the majority of parents over-estimate their understanding of what teens are doing on the web. The reason is simple: teens today are really good at covering their digital tracks.

In this article, I’m going to show you the six most common strategies teenagers use to hide their Internet activity from the folks. This data comes from a study of over 1,000 teenagers and parents conducted by the internet security firm McAfee.

1. Most Teens Clear their Browsing History

Even though over three-quarters of parents believe their teen isn’t accessing age-inappropriate content, more than two-thirds of teens claim their parents don’t know everything they do online. The most popular defense against parent-snooping appears to be deleting browser history, with 53% of teens participating. By eliminating suspicious sites from their history, teens can easily lull parents into a false sense of security and help teens avoid geting grounded or sent off to boot camp.

2. 34% of Teens Hide or Delete Messages or Videos

The majority of the illicit content teens come across on the web doesn’t just pop up on Google, it comes in the form of a message from one of their peers. To avoid getting themselves and their friends in trouble, many teens are in the habit of deleting all explicit messages as soon as they’ve been viewed. It's understandable that a parent would be concerned if they sense their teen is hiding something, but fortunately, there are ways to retrieve blocked text messages without being too intrusive or upsetting your teen. The process depends on the type of technology your teen is using, but generally you'll need to acquire access credentials in order to gain entry. Taking the right steps will help you uncover any hidden messages while still allowing your teen to maintain some level of privacy and trust between you both. Alternatively, your teen could be the one sending risque material around their peer group, then clearing their sent folder to cover their trail. Direct messages can be exchanged on all social media platforms and are virtually impossible to recover once they’ve been deleted.

3. 23% Straight Up Lie (or Omit Information)

This one may not come as much of a surprise, but it’s still a significant figure. Over twenty percent of teens simply lie to their parents about what they do online, or choose to omit the details. Let’s break down what they’re lying about. It might shock you to hear that 48% of teens admit to looking up answers to tests or otherwise cheating online. This dramatic level of dishonesty is even steeper than the amount of teens that view pornographic content (32%) or violent content (43%). Together, cheating, nudity, and violence dominate the shortcomings in parents’ awareness over teens’ online access.

4. Privacy Settings

These social media settings are supposed to be used for hiding certain posts and even your entire account from people you don’t trust. But teenagers have learned they can completely block parents from viewing their accounts using the same technology meant to keep creepy strangers at bay. In fact, 20% of teens admit to doing this. Naive parents can be misled about their teen’s social media presence simply because they’ve been blocked.

5. 20% utilize Web Proxies or Private Browsing

Proxies and private browsing modes allow teens to surf the web without being tracked on their PC or phone. This feature leaves no trace on the device because it dumps all the user data, cookies, and history at the end of each browsing session. Specifically, proxies can let teens browse content as if they were a different person in a different place by bouncing their connection through hard-to-trace servers. Proxies can also make online content appear to be coming from unusual sources. This trick helps forbidden content get past certain cyber security features that you might have installed on your home Internet or your teen’s devices.

6. Fake Accounts

15% of teens have an alternate email account and 9% have a fake social media account. Both types of secret accounts benefit teens in different ways. The fake email account allows teens to subscribe to services, send hidden messages, and make purchases online without parents knowing. An email account can be linked to a variety of websites, like social media accounts, giving your teen unrestricted access. In fact, nearly one in ten teens has a secret social media account they hide from parents. With a real account and a fake account, teens can craft two different online personas: one full of parent-friendly inspirational quotes and memes, and a secret one that is just for friends.


Andy-Earle's picture
Co-Founder of

Andy Earle is a researcher who studies parent-teen communication and adolescent risk behaviors. He is the co-founder of and host of the Talking to Teens podcast, a free weekly talk show for parents of teenagers.