The online poll, conducted by Harris Interactive, found that more than half (51 percent) of the kids polled said their school's computer usage rules were more stringent than home rules. The findings of the survey of 1,556 U.S. children, aged 8 to 18, suggest that less rigid supervision at home increases kids' freedom to surf inappropriate web sites and chat with strangers.
The survey, which was commissioned by the Business Software Alliance (BSA), found that about half of older teens, aged 16 to 18, report having downloaded software (52 percent) and music (52 percent) while on home computers this year. This compared to just over a third of younger teens, ages 13 to 15 (36 and 38 percent, respectively).
According to the research over a third of kids surveyed in all age groups said they are more likely to use a home computer rather than a school computer to chat with someone they don't know, divulge personal information online (24 percent) or go to web sites they probably shouldn't visit (29 percent).
"Visiting inappropriate sites, downloading software illegally, chatting with strangers and other risky web behaviors, rarely occurs at school. Unfortunately, the greater risk for these behaviors is clearly in the home," said Diane Smiroldo, vice president of public affairs for BSA.
"We learned that schools are far more likely than parents to use blocking software and enforce safe online use policies. So, what the kids cannot do at school, they can more easily get away with at home due to less supervision. This is why it's so critical that teachers and parents take every opportunity to get involved and be observant when it comes to kids spending time online."
One reason that school computer use is safer than at home is that, at school, children are much more likely to be online with adult supervision, according to the study findings. While it is rare that they are online alone at school (just 15 percent say they are alone when on the Internet at school), they are commonly online alone at home (62 percent) and more likely to experiment and take risks.
"Many kids say that their parents have talked to them about what's appropriate online behavior and what's not. Yet, despite these efforts, the home computer seems to be the center of most risky behaviors among youth, and that's a serious problem," said Smiroldo. One positive note from the study indicates that parents may have more ability to get their kids to listen than previously thought. "All age groups say that their parents know as much as they do about the Internet and that parents are more Internet savvy than teachers. This clearly indicates a real opportunity for parents to get more involved and make more of a difference in their kids' online activities," added Smiroldo.