Study: Most Parents Worry About Kids’ Online Privacy — but Aren’t Doing Anything about It

A majority of parents are concerned about their teenagers’ online behavior, but relatively few have worked with them to set up privacy settings on their social media accounts, according to a new survey.

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A majority of parents are concerned about their teenagers’ online behavior, but relatively few have worked with them to set up privacy settings on their social media accounts, according to a new survey.

A report released today by the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project found that 72 percent of the 802 surveyed parents of American teenagers were concerned about their children interacting with strangers online, while 70 percent worried their children’s web habits could harm future academic or employment opportunities.

(MORE: Colleges Rush to Invest in Social Media Recruiting: Less Viewbooks, More Facebook)

Despite that widespread anxiety, only 39 percent of parents helped their teenagers set up privacy settings.

The numbers are higher for parents of younger teens, about half of whom have helped their children adjust privacy settings. Race and class also help determine the use of privacy settings, the survey found. White parents are almost twice as likely as black parents to help their child set up privacy settings, while high-income families earning more than $75,000 per year are also more likely to adjust privacy settings than those earning less than $30,000 per year.

Even though parents aren’t hounding their kids to boost their privacy settings, students are often well aware of the implications public Facebook posts can have. Last week TIME explored the ways in which college admissions offices research applicants online, especially on Facebook. Students, aware of the trend, are fighting back by boosting their privacy settings and even making up fake names on social media. Often they’re advised to mind what they post by college counselors at their high school instead of by parents at home.

(MORE: When Colleges Look Up Applicants on Facebook: The Unspoken New Admissions Test)

The most dismaying act of parental involvement for many teenagers is the dreaded friend request from Mom or Dad. According to Pew, 80 percent of parents who use social media have friended their children and half have posted on their child’s profile.

While some students surveyed said it was cool to interact with parents online, others weren’t thrilled with the idea of encountering Mom and Dad on the Internet. “The day my father gets on Facebook is the day I’ll be out of Facebook,” one 14-year-old said in the report. But with 82% of parents under 40 now on social media, it seems like an idea kids are just going to have to get used to.

MORE: Should You Use Your Smart Phone to Track Your Kids?

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