Summary of Findings

Many teens ages 12-17 report that they generally draw on their own wits, observations and knowledge to manage their privacy online and on social media. Focus group interviews with teens show that for their day-to-day privacy management, many teens figure out sharing and settings on their own, either by walking through their choices in the app or platform when they sign up, or through their own searching and use of their preferred platform.

At the same time, a nationally representative survey of teen internet users shows that, at some point, 70% of them have sought outside advice about how to manage some aspect of 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

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.

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 things.

This research was undertaken because there is ongoing concern among parents and advocates about how teenagers develop online privacy management skills and where they turn to get advice when they feel they need help. 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).