Online Privacy and Teens: Help Them Care if They Don’t
Before you read this article, stop and picture yourself as a 16 year old. Now that you’ve recovered from the trauma of that, think about this question: what thoughts consumed your time – your favorite band, your first car, your first love, your first job, your first password? Certainly not the latter, and you most likely weren’t thinking about online privacy issues.
It’s no surprise then that today’s teens don’t think about them much either, although they do more than most of us ever had to. The Pew Research Center recently conducted a survey entitled Teens, Social Media, and Privacy and found a variety of interesting statistics.
Teens share more about themselves on social media sites than they did according to the previous survey from 2006. A few of the more significant ones:
- 91% post a photo of themselves (up from 79%)
- 71% post their school name (up from 49%)
- 53% post their email address (up from 29%)
- 20% post their cell phone number (up from 2%)
Some new questions revealed that teens also post other potentially risky information:
- 92% post their real name
- 82% post their birth date
- 24% post videos of themselves
- 16% have set their profile to automatically include their location in posts
The good news is that while teens are sharing more, they are also becoming more aware of privacy concerns; 60% of teen Facebook users set their profiles to private. In addition, 89% of those users indicated it’s “not difficult at all” or “not too difficult” to set privacy controls.
Teens also manage their profiles in other ways to help control their reputation:
- 59% have deleted or edited a previous post
- 53% have deleted comments from others
- 74% have deleted people from their network or friends list
- 26% have posted false information to help protect their privacy
While some of these statistics would seem to indicate that teens are becoming more aware of protecting their privacy and reputation, there are still far too many that are just not concerned. In fact, just 9% responded that they were “very concerned” and 31% were “somewhat concerned that some of the information they share on social networking sites might be accessed by third parties like advertisers or businesses without their knowledge.” Undoubtedly, some of this lack of concern comes from simple, blissful teenage ignorance. One teen that participated in a focus group discussion said, “Anyone who isn’t friends with me cannot see anything about my profile except my name and gender. I don’t believe that [Facebook] would do anything with my info.”
In contrast to this, 81% of parents are “somewhat” or “very” concerned about what advertisers can learn about their children’s online behavior. Too bad it’s not 100%, but if you’re reading this, I’m guessing you’re one of the 81%. Because you care, and because your children quite likely do not, it may fall to you to help them be safe online. We’ve addressed this many times in the past (in articles referenced below), but it’s so important that we wanted to revisit it. The most basic steps:
- Have a frank discussion about what concerns you. Discuss how advertisers use the information they can easily garner when we use social media, and warn them (AGAIN AND AGAIN!) about how strangers can access it, too. Our Summer School for Parents article addresses the specifics in case you missed it.
- Teach your child how to play it smart on Facebook. We addressed this in our Facebook Privacy article with some detailed action items.
- Check out our Smartphone Survival Guide and Facebook Safety Survival Guide if you want more specifics.
It may be hard to pull your teens off their social media sites long enough to have these discussions, but it will be worth the effort to protect their online privacy.
John Sileo is an online privacy expert and professional speaker on social media privacy. His clients include the Department of Defense, Pfizer, Visa, and Homeland Security. See his recent media appearances on 60 Minutes, Anderson Cooper and Fox Business.