Pew study: Parents of teens online worry about ads, strangers

Pew Internet Project surveys parents to find out what concerns them most about their children being online and using social networks. Advertisers top their list.

Donna Tam Staff Writer / News
Donna Tam covers Amazon and other fun stuff for CNET News. She is a San Francisco native who enjoys feasting, merrymaking, checking her Gmail and reading her Kindle.
Donna Tam
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Parents are more worried about advertisers having access to their children's online data than about their children talking to strangers online, according to a report published today.

The Pew Internet Project and the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University collaborated on the report, which is based on a survey if 802 parents of children aged 12 to 17 with questions about social-networking sites, namely Facebook. As more and more teens and pre-teens use social media as a part of their every day communications , the study finds that parents worried about a variety of online dangers -- it's no longer just about warning your kids not to talk to strangers.

The survey found that 81 percent of parents said they are concerned about how much information advertisers can learn about their teen's online behavior. When it came to their teens interacting with strangers online, 72 percent said they were concerned.

Parents were even less were worried about their children's reputation online, but not by much, according to the study. The survey asked if parents were concerned that something their teens posted online could ruin the teens' reputations, and if their behaviors online could end up affecting their academic or employment opportunities. Sixty-nine parents said yes to both scenarios.

Apparently, a teen's image has been a very real concern for a majority of the parents interviewed. Fifty-nine percent of parents whose teens use social-networking sites have talked to their teen because of something they've posted on their account.

Some of the parents took direct other action in an attempt to prevent online dangers -- reading privacy policies (44 percent), helping their child set up privacy settings on a social network (31 percent), and doing Internet searches to see what information is publicly available on their child (42 percent). Fifty percent of parents who have teens online, and not just those on social media, said they have used parental controls or other ways to block, filter, or monitor their child's online activities.

Overall, the report found that parents are increasingly joining social-networking sites to monitor their children's behavior. The percentage is up from 2011, according to the report, from 58 percent to 66 percent. Half of this growing group of social-media savvy parents join to comment or respond to posts to make sure their kids know they are watching.

"While parents may forge connections with their teens on social media in order to passively observe them, many are also actively engaging with their children and making their presence known," the report said.

Pew Research Center Internet & American Life Project Teens and Privacy Survey