Teens say they generally rely on themselves to figure out how to manage their privacy online;

Still, 70% of teens have at one time sought advice about how to manage their privacy online

WASHINGTON—Many teens ages 12-17 report that they usually figure out how to manage content sharing and privacy settings on their own.  Focus group interviews with teens suggest that for their day-to-day privacy management, teens are guided through their choices in the app or platform when they sign up, or find answers through their own searching and use of their preferred platform.

At the same time, though, a nationally representative survey of teen internet users shows that, at some point, 70% of them have sought advice from someone else about how to manage their privacy online. When they do seek outside help, teens most often turn to friends, parents or other close family members:

  • 42% have talked to friends or peers
  • 41% have talked to a parent
  • 37% have asked a sibling or cousin
  • 13% have gone to a website for advice
  • 9% have asked a teacher

Girls are more likely than boys to have asked for help. In addition, those ages 12 and 13 are more likely than older teens to have asked for help and are more likely to have talked with their parents.  White teens and teens from more affluent households are more likely to have sought advice from a parent, when compared with non-white or less affluent families. Focus group data suggest that low-income youth may be more likely to seek advice from teachers.

“Teens rank themselves as pretty self-sufficient when it comes to managing their online privacy. Most of the time, teens figure out the privacy settings themselves,” said Amanda Lenhart, Senior Researcher and Director of Teens and Technology Research at the Pew Research Center, and an author of the report. “Still, most teens do have moments where they reach out for guidance in managing their online privacy – and when they do, they go to peers and parents.”

The majority of teens who use Facebook set their profile to either fully or partially private—regardless of whether or not they have sought out advice on how to manage their privacy online. However, online privacy advice seekers are more likely to limit what certain friends can see within their own friend networks, while those who have not sought out privacy advice are somewhat more likely to say that all of their friends can see the same content.

This report is the fourth in a series of reports issued in collaboration with the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard.

About the survey

These findings are based on a nationally representative phone survey of 802 parents and their 802 teens ages 12-17. It was conducted between July 26 and September 30, 2012. Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish and on landline and cell phones. The margin of error for the full sample is ± 4.5 percentage points. In collaboration with the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard, this report also includes insights and quotes gathered through a series of in-person focus group interviews about privacy and digital media, with a focus on social networking sites (in particular Facebook), conducted by the Berkman Center’s Youth and Media Project between February and April 2013. The team conducted 24 focus group interviews with a total of 156 participants across the greater Boston area, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara (California), and Greensboro (North Carolina).

About the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project

The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project is one of seven projects that make up the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan, nonprofit “fact tank” that provides information on the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world. The Project produces reports exploring the impact of the Internet on families, communities, work and home, daily life, education, health care, and civic and political life. The Project aims to be an authoritative source on the evolution of the Internet through surveys that examine how Americans use the Internet and how their activities affect their lives.

About the Berkman Center for Internet & Society

The Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University is a research program founded to recognize, study, and engage the most difficult problems of the digital age and to share in their resolution in ways that advance the public interest. Founded in 1997, through a generous gift from Jack N. and Lillian R. Berkman, the Center is home to an ever-growing community of faculty, fellows, staff, and affiliates. Fundamental to its work is the study of the relationship between digital technologies and democratic values, including civic participation, access to knowledge, and the free flow of information. More information can be found at http://cyber.law.harvard.edu.

Media contact

Amanda Lenhart: alenhart@pewresearch.org/internet and 202-419-4514