Indian children are among the youngest to reach mobile maturity and have the highest online risk exposure, according to a global study by McAfee Corp.

McAfee’s Global Connected Family Study was conducted across 10 countries including India, speaking to parents and children to understand how they connect and protect themselves online. 

According to the study, in India, smartphone use at the age of 10-14 is at 83 per cent, which is 7 per cent above the international average of 76 per cent.

“This leads to high exposure to online risks as there is a substantial security gap between parents and children,” the report said.

“Ninety percent of parents globally recognise their role as protectors online, just as they recognise their responsibility to protect their children in the broader world. Children in India are among the youngest to reach mobile maturity and report among the highest exposure to online risks,” said Sachin Puri, Vice President of Marketing, McAfee.

“With this data, we aim to bring light to actions which parents need to take to counteract online risks such as cyberbullying, online identity theft and leaks of financial information,” added Puri.

The study also focused on several universal beliefs about online protection as well as tensions between parents and children when it comes to staying safe online.

“A closer look across nations shows several regional distinctions in mobile maturity, the gender gap, and levels of parental concern about risks,” as per the report.

Mobile maturity

In terms of mobile maturity, i.e. the age when kids begin their digital existence, adult-grade internet usage starts early, along with the risks that can follow, as per the report.

“Globally, by 15-16 years old, teens hit their online stride and mobile usage jumps significantly, so much so that it approaches levels that they will carry into adulthood,” the report said.

Indian children are amongst the youngest to reach mobile maturity across the globe, starting as early as aged between 10 to 14. Smartphone use in this cohort was around 83 per cent, which is above the international average by 7 per cent.

“With early connection, come early risks such as unauthorised use of their personal data — which included spam, fraud, or attempts to send viruses to their contacts,” it said. 

The highest rates of online risks were found in India. 24 per cent of children between 10-14 reported such risks as compared to the global average of 12 per cent.

Measures taken by parents

Parents play a key role in keeping children safe online.

Globally, 73 per cent of children look to parents more than any other resource for help with online safety. 

The study further found that parents take more precautions — installing antivirus software, using password protection, sticking to reputable online stores when shopping — on their own devices than they do on their children’s connected devices. 

56 per cent of parents said that they protect their smartphone with a password or passcode, only 42 per cent globally said they do the same for their child’s smartphone, a further 14 per cent drop.

The level of concern regarding cyberbullying and abuse on social media amongst Indian parents stood at 47 per cent, 10 per cent lower than the global average of 57 per cent.

“Indian families reported their experiences with other online threats, indicating issues with online privacy and security —and at a much greater rate,” it said.

Parents in India reported the attempted theft of online accounts at 33 per cent which was 5 per cent higher than parents worldwide at 28 per cent. Further, 26 per cent of children reported thefts in India, 11 per cent higher than the global average of 15 per cent.

Indian parents and children also reported leaks of financial information at a higher rate than families globally, with parents 9 per cent higher than the 21 per cent global average and children 13 per cent higher than the 10 per cent average.

There is also a gender bias when it comes to online safety, as per the report.

“Parents appear to see boys and girls differently when it comes to protecting them online. An apparent gender bias finds girls more protected than boys, yet it’s boys who encounter more issues online,” it said.

Globally, 23 per cent of parents said that they will check the browsing and email history on the PCs of their daughters aged 10 to 14. For boys, the number stood at 16 per cent. Additionally, 22 per cent of parents reported restricting access to certain sites for girls while it was 16 per cent for boys.

Consistent with the global trend, 44 per cent of girls in India have parental controls software installed on computers compared to 40 per cent of boys. 55 per cent parents of girls aged 10-14 are more likely to check their calls and texts as compared to parents of boys at 52 per cent.

The report also focused online activities of children and teenagers.

“Children and teens want privacy and protection as they build their connected lives. In India, tweens and teens put their smartphones and gaming consoles as preferred devices at the top of their list,” the report said.

They often tend to hide their online activity by clearing their browser history, omit details about what they are doing online. 59 per cent act to hide their online activity across the globe.

In India, the number of children reporting private conversations without knowing a person’s real identity was 11 per cent higher than for other children around the world.

22 per cent of children in India experienced cyberbullying at some time, 5 per cent higher than the global average of 17 per cent.

“We want parents to know there are tools and resources available to foster safe and healthy online activity for their families, while also being aware of the habits that can increase the risk of instances like cyberbullying or cyberattacks,” said Gagan Singh, Executive Vice President, Chief Product and Revenue Officer, McAfee.

“For total online protection of families, this study urges parents to safeguard their kids from various vulnerabilities by using effective tools which give the ability to monitor device activity, limit screen time, block apps and filter websites to help add an additional layer of protection,” added Singh.