Aug 16, 2013

Teens are seeking out advice about online privacy, but are they getting the answers they need?

A new study conducted by the Pew Research Center in collaboration with The Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard reveals that teens do seek out advice about how to manage their online privacy, and they’re nearly as likely to seek help from their parents as they are from their peers. That’s good news, but whether or not the advice they are getting is helpful and whether they choose to take that advice remains to be seen.

### Most Teens Ask for Help Occasionally

Researchers found that of those surveyed, most kids ages 12-17 manage their online privacy on their own most of the time. However, 70% reported that they have asked for help at some point. Of those who do ask for privacy advice, 42% have asked a friend or peer, 41% have asked a parent, and 37% have asked a sibling or cousin. Surprisingly, only 9% report having asked a teacher for advice.

### Teens Behave Similarly, Whether or Not They Seek Advice

Perhaps one of the most eye-opening takeaways from the study is that teens report similar online behaviors, despite whether or not they seek out advice about online privacy. Of particular concern is the fact that both groups of teens (i.e. those who ask for help and those who don’t) are equally likely to share personal information online including their full names, birthdays, email addresses, and even cell phone numbers. Furthermore, researchers found no difference in the content of what teens post on social media networks. Those who do ask for help with matters of online privacy are somewhat more likely to limit what others can see on their profiles; 61% of advice seekers set their Facebook profiles to “private” compared to 56% of non-advice seekers.

### Some Teens Think Parents are Clueless

Why don’t more teens ask their parents for advice about privacy settings? It could be that they have little faith that their parents are capable of actually helping. The study’s focus groups revealed that some kids think their parents are clueless when it comes to the Internet. One male respondent said, “Parents are a no-go…My parents are pretty old school, like, they don’t really use the Internet.” Another 16-year old boy responded, “Parents, they don’t know how computers work. My dad does, but he doesn’t know how the Internet works.” Of course, it’s impossible to know whether these statements are rooted in reality or perpetuated by stereotypes about parents’ technological ineptitude. But, when it comes to whether teens will turn to parents for digital advice, it’s all about perception.

### The Bottom Line

Though the study may bring up more questions than answers, one thing is clear. Teens need and want their parents’ guidance when it comes to managing online privacy. It’s up to us grown-ups to educate ourselves on privacy matters so that we can teach our kids these important lessons when they do turn to us for advice.

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