Teens do seek online privacy help, think parents overreact to stranger-danger

A majority of teens ask for online privacy advice, a new survey from Pew Research says. But less than half of teens say they'd ask Mom and Dad. Why? Parents don't trust that their kids' life skills translate to online skills. 

Xavier Schmidt has his picture taken by his parents outside Facebook's headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., May 17, 2012

Privacy in social media is important to US teens (and undoubtedly all teens). We knew this but just got further confirmation today from the Pew Internet Project’s new study, “Where Teens Seek Online Privacy Advice.”

“The majority of teens set their profile to either fully or partially private,” the authors report, and if they can’t figure out how to manage their settings themselves, they get advice – in fact “70% of teen Internet users have asked for or sought out advice on managing their privacy online” – more than three-quarters of 12- and 13-year-olds (77%) and 67% of 14- to 17-year-olds. But teens are also very self-reliant, as many parents know (because we sometimes ask them for help!). [In fact, in a focus group, a 13-year-old told the authors that her parents told her to figure it out herself.]

“For their day-to-day privacy management, teens generally rely on themselves to figure out the practical aspects of sharing and settings on their own … whether by being walked through their choices by the app or platform when they first sign up, or through search and use of their preferred platform,” according to the study, which was both quantitative (survey) and qualitative (focus groups).

Pew found no real difference in privacy practices (see the chart) between teens who do and don’t seek advice, except in two areas: “The teens who seek advice are more likely than non-seekers to block other people and to delete or deactivate a profile entirely.”

Breaking the advice-seeking down, Pew found that parents were right up there with friends and humans much preferred to online sources:

  • 42 percent of teen Net users “have asked a friend or peer for advice” and 41 percent have asked a parent
  • 37 percent have asked a sibling or cousin
  • 13 percent have gone to a Web site for advice, whether the service providing the settings or another source online
  • 9 percent have asked a teacher
  • 3 percent have gone to some other person or resource

The majority of the focus group teens said they wouldn’t seek advice from adults, though, and “one focus group participant [a 16-year-old girl] captured a primary reason that parents, teachers, and other adults are not seen as a go-to resource for information about Internet privacy,” the authors wrote, quoting her as saying: “I think parents don’t understand that we can apply life skills onto the Internet, whereas it’s a little more confusing, maybe, for them, that switch [from life to Internet]. But because we’ve grown up with it, we can easily see, OK, stranger in real life, stranger on the computer, same thing.”

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best family and parenting bloggers out there. Our contributing and guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor, and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. Anne Collier blogs at NetFamilyNews.

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