What parents think teens are doing on social networks, and what the teens are actually doing


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Teens may not be into Twitter, but 51% say they log into a social network such as Facebook at least once a day. Credit: Gauldo via Flickr.

Do you know where your teens are on the Web tonight?

Most parents aren’t surprised by the most likely answer: social networks. But they may be unsettled by what their kids are doing on those sites, according to a survey to be released Monday by Common Sense Media, a San Francisco advocacy group.


The survey polled 1,013 teens and 1,002 parents. The bottom line: Parents consistently underestimate how much time their kids spend on social networks and how often they engage in risky behavior, such as posting revealing photos of themselves, bullying other kids or hacking into their friends’ accounts. The study mirrors an earlier report from Common Sense Media on kids using technology to cheat in school.

Here’s a sample of the new report’s findings:

  • 37% of teens said they used social networks to make fun of other students, but only 18% of parents believe their own angels do so.
  • 13% of teens said they posted naked or semi-naked photos or videos of themselves. Only 2% of parents said their kids have done that.
  • 24% of teens said they signed on to someone else’s account without permission, while only 4% of parents said their kids have done that.
  • 28% of teens posted personal information that they normally would not have revealed in public, but 16% of parents said their kids did that.

What to do? Common Sense suggests ...

... parents first learn about these networks by registering and exploring the networks their children are in. Because Facebook and MySpace don’t allow kids under 13 to open accounts, parents with younger children should check their browsers’ histories to see where their kids are going.

For parents of teens who are already on social networks, Common Sense suggested they talk with their kids about privacy settings, whom not to friend and precautions to take when posting personal information.

‘Remind teens that everything they post can essentially be seen by a vast, invisible audience,’ the group said in its report. ‘And tell them that online stuff can last forever. If they wouldn’t put something on the hallway in school, they shouldn’t post it on their pages.’

-- Alex Pham

Follow my random thoughts on games, gear and technology on Twitter @AlexPham.