A window onto family Facebook use: Study

By Anne Collier

Eighty percent of US parents of teens have a social networking account; of those parents, 95% have Facebook accounts; and of that 95%, the vast majority (86%) are friends with their teens in Facebook. Interestingly, in those households where both a parent and a teen have Facebook accounts, more than a third of the teens said they got their parent to join Facebook,” reports TRUSTe, which commissioned the study of 2,000 parents and teens by Lightspeed Research. TRUSTe, the privacy policy certification company, didn’t appear to ask the teen respondents why they got their parents to join Facebook, but I imagine it was to ease parental concerns about social networking – not that FB is the all of teen social networking (see “Parents, you’re not just focusing on FB, right?”).

TRUSTe says in its press release that it called the study “The Kids are Alright” because the results “reflect in many ways parents and teens doing the right things on social networks.” It said parents are monitoring and engaging with their teens in social sites and “teens are using available privacy controls.” Even so, TRUSTe added, “many teens are over-posting, over-sharing, and over-friending.” However, its study also found that parents and teens are remarkably in sync on what teens are doing in social sites, within a few percentage points of each other in most cases. For example – when teens were asked, “Which of the following types of data do you post on your social networking profile?” and parents were asked, “Which of the following types of data do you think your teen posts on their social networking profile?” – they were 3 percentage points apart on “sharing of personal interests” (70% parents, 73% teens); 2 percentage points on sharing photos and videos (70% parents, 72% teens); and 2 percentage points on the teen posting his/her picture (80% parents, 82% teens). The two biggest gaps (9 points apart) were on sharing full name and posting status updates, which surprised me because status updating is such a basic FB feature (though one of my kids never uses it). Even in the same family, Facebook use is very individual, which is why I feel it’s so important to talk with our kids about their social media use and take surveys about how all youth use social networking with a grain of salt.

In the area of privacy, parents and teens seem pretty aligned too. The survey found that 80% of parents and 78% of teens feel in control of their personal information on social sites, and 84% of parents are confident their teen is responsible with personal information on social sites. That confidence is somewhat based on experience, apparently, because 72% of parents monitor their kids’ social networking, “most at least weekly,” TRUSTe reports.

Other highlights about how families negotiate Facebook and the social Web:

* 67% of parents and 70% of teens understand privacy protection on FB; 52% and 59%, respectively, find the privacy settings clear.
* “82% of parents feel they should be able to delete information from their teens’ accounts by contacting Facebook or other sites.
* “18% of teens have been embarrassed or disciplined as a result of a posting. * “80% of teens use privacy settings at some point to hide content from certain friends and/or parents.
* 68% of teens surveyed have at some time accepted friend invites from people they don’t know, with 8% accepting all, 34% accepting some, and 26% accepting rarely.

In his coverage, my ConnectSafely co-director Larry Magid pointed to the notable contrast between this survey and Common Sense Media’s recent survey by Zogby, finding 75% of parents “say they would rate the job that social networks are doing to protect children’s online privacy as negative” (another key difference is that Lightspeed compared parent and teen perspectives). Larry suggests the contrast in parents’ views may have something to do with when parents were asked. [Here is what I felt about focusing solely on parents’ concerns with an eye toward legislation at a time when – as I wrote earlier – legislation is becoming a slow, inflexible blunt instrument in a continuously changing user-driven media environment. How does that affect young people’s continuously unfolding online behavior?!]

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