TRUSTe Releases Survey Results of Parents and Teenagers on Social Networking Behaviors

National Poll Conducted in Partnership with Lightspeed Research Reveals Alignment Between Parents and Teens in Desire for Privacy

San Francisco, Calif. – October 18, 2010 - TRUSTe, provider of the leading privacy trustmark, today announced the results of a survey of parents and their teenagers on social networking behaviors – the first national social networking privacy survey to be conducted on both parents and their teens that also measures parental expectations against actual teen behavior. The poll, conducted by Lightspeed Research, included responses from two thousand parents and teenagers to reveal:  their level of involvement with social networks; perceptions and concerns about their privacy when using social networks; and parental monitoring and engagement with their teens on social networks.

The study is titled “The Kids are Alright,” as it reflects in many ways parents and teens doing the right things on social networks. For example, parents are monitoring and engaging with their teens online; and, teens are using available privacy controls. That said, many teens are over-posting, over-sharing, and over-friending – including with people they don’t know. 

“It is crucial to get an accurate view of how teens are behaving online and how parents think about online safety in order to continue to make the Internet a safer place,” said Stephen Balkam, CEO of Family Online Safety Institute. “This survey helps demonstrate the need to teach a new kind of digital citizenship, one that emphasizes tolerance, civility and respect for each other in person and online.” 

An overwhelming 98 percent of parents indicate that both their teen’s privacy – as well as control over their own personal information – is important, very important or extremely important when using social media websites. Overall, the survey suggests that parents and teens are doing a number of the right activities to protect their privacy:

  • 80 percent of parents and 78 percent of teens feel in control of their personal information on social networking sites;
  • 84 percent of parents are confident their teen is responsible with personal information on a social networking site;
  • 72 percent of parents surveyed monitor their teens’ accounts, with 50 percent of these parents monitoring weekly, 35 percent daily and 10 percent monthly; and,
  • 84 percent of parents are accurate in understanding the amount of time their teen spends on social networks and generally have a good understanding of the activities they are engaged in online.

However, teens are still engaging in potentially harmful activities:

  • 18 percent of teens have been embarrassed or disciplined as a result of a posting;
  • 80 percent of teens use privacy settings at some point to hide content from certain friends and/or parents; and,
  • 68 percent of teens surveyed have at some time accepted friend invites from people they don’t know, with 8 percent accepting all, 34 percent accepting some, and 26 percent accepting rarely.

As a result, it’s not surprising then that 82 percent of parents would like to delete information from their teens’ accounts or otherwise exert more control.

“The data clearly shows that parents place the utmost importance on their teens’ online privacy and control of their personal information,” said Fran Maier, President and Executive Chair at TRUSTe. “But, protecting the privacy of teens on social networks is not easy as they can be technically adept, have strong motivations to connect widely, and don’t yet have the maturity to look out for their long term interests. As with any other privacy issue, there is no one panacea – neither government nor education nor technology can offer the perfect solution. Uniquely, we believe the opportunity with teens rests with responsible privacy practices that recognize teens are an important segment with special needs, coupled with parents who are in a strong position to educate and help their teens navigate the risks.”

“TRUSTe’s survey reinforces what we're seeing – that parents and teens share a keen interest in teen privacy in social network sites, that most teens are acting on those privacy interests, and that parents are, at the same time acknowledging that and wisely seeing the need to support teens' responsible use with some monitoring," said Anne Collier, Co-Director, ConnectSafely.org. “It's great to see that parents aren't projecting all the news coverage of extreme cases onto their own teens' online experiences, but we all know, too, that family discussion and online privacy education need to continue."

TRUSTe advises the social networks it certifies, to provide more protective privacy defaults for this age group, especially for sensitive information such as location data.   

“Educating teens about online safety and digital citizenship is a responsibility shared by parents, safety advocates, services like TRUSTe, and companies like Facebook,” said Joe Sullivan, Facebook’s Chief Security Officer. “We’re thrilled to see the positive ways that teens and parents are engaging with social networks, and will continue to work with TRUSTe and others to develop innovative and robust solutions to keep teens safe.”

Facebook clearly dominates as the leading social networking site with a whopping 95 percent of parents and 90 percent of teens with a social networking account using the popular site. Within households where both the adult and teen reported Facebook accounts, one-third of teens surveyed said they helped open and set up the account for one or both of their parents, and most of those teens are friends with their parents, with more girls friending parents than boys.

The majority of parents and teens said they feel confident about the safeguards they have in place for their Facebook accounts, although 89 percent of parents want default privacy settings on all teen accounts to limit the amount of information that is public and to restrict advertiser and application access to their teen’s information. Parents are looking for more direct ways to control their teen’s information and overall want greater control.

Not surprisingly, most parents spend less time than teens on social networking and Facebook, although the majority of both groups checked Facebook at least once a day and frequently more often. Teens also engaged in more social networking activities than parents, such as chatting, playing games, sharing online content and taking quizzes and on average have a larger number of Facebook friends.

How Parents Can Lead Teens in Social Networking

While sites like Facebook are increasing privacy efforts for minors, it is ultimately a parent’s responsibility to know what their kids are up to in the world of social networking, in order to avoid pitfalls that can include bullying, hacking and even – in rare cases – suicide. Even though teens may be more technically savvy, parents have the greater breadth of world knowledge and insight needed to protect their children. Some tips for parents include:

  • learn about social networking technologies first-hand;
  • explain to teens that they should only post information they are comfortable with others seeing;
  • advise teens about what information should be private; and,
  • discuss the importance of passwords.


TRUSTe has compiled these suggestions and others, as well as the full survey findings, into a free resource for parents:  “How to Protect Your Teen on Social Networks: Privacy Tips for Parents.” The guide helps parents ensure that they are discussing the most important aspects of privacy with their teen – from password protection to settings. In addition, TRUSTe has developed a separate resource targeted specifically toward a teen audience to help bridge the privacy knowledge gap. An online privacy video presentation, as well as footage of parents and teens talking on camera about their attitudes regarding privacy and social networks, is available as well. All of these resources can be accessed immediately at: www.truste.com/2010-survey/.

We welcome inquiries about this research. To set up an interview with one of our experts, please use the contact information below.

About TRUSTe
TRUSTe is the leading global Data Privacy Management (DPM) company and powers trust in the data economy by enabling businesses to safely collect and use customer data across web, mobile, cloud and advertising channels. Our cloud-based Data Privacy Management Platform delivers innovative technology products, including website monitoring and advertising compliance controls – along with privacy assessments and certifications. More than 5,000 companies worldwide, including Apple, Disney, eBay, Forbes, LinkedIn and Oracle rely on our DPM platform and globally recognized Certified Privacy Seal to protect/enhance their brand, drive user engagement and minimise compliance risk. For more information, please http://www.truste.com.

About Lightspeed Research
Lightspeed Research (www.lightspeedresearch.com) is the market researcher’s choice for digitally accessing and deriving insight from consumer opinions and behaviors whenever, wherever and in whatever segments needed. The industry’s most thorough panelist pre-screening process and large global pool delivers business-ready results quickly and cost-effectively. From proprietary online access panels to specialty panels, custom panels and innovative mobile surveys, Lightspeed Research offers the industry’s highest-quality and most complete combination of qualitative and quantitative online research. This is backed by an expert client operations team that provides a range of data collection services, from sample management and survey design to programming and reporting.  Part of Kantar, a division of WPP, Lightspeed Research serves clients and cultivates online panelists across the Americas, Europe and Asia Pacific.