A typical weekday night for families with teenagers usually includes the teen texting friends and going onto various social networking sites like Facebook to connect with friends. These two activities can consume hours and yet many parents and grandparents are not sure if this behavior is typical or if it is something they need to be concerned about.
One resource that can be utilized by parents is a recently released study by the Pew Research Center on teens, their social media habits, and their attitudes toward privacy on these sites. The report compared how teens’ social media habits have changed over the past five years. Overall, most teens still use Facebook and have about 300 friends. However, many teens are beginning to tire of Facebook and looking for alternative social media to utilize. One site gaining in popularity is Twitter where teens have an average of 79 followers. Locally, Instagram has become popular as has Snapchat, a photo sharing site where the photos delete themselves a few seconds after being received.
In regards to privacy, teens are sharing more information about themselves than they have in the past. For example, most teens post their real name, interests, birth date, relationship status, and pictures of themselves. They also reveal what town they live in and what school they attend. Posting this much personal information can pose some significant issues regarding identity theft and data mining by companies.
Identity theft and data mining are the furthest things from teens’ minds as a vast majority of teens were not concerned about others using the information they posted. We have found that most teens have not considered the consequences of how others could use this information. Rather than having an absolute ban on posting personal information to social media sites, it would be better for parents to show teens how the information being collected on them is being used. We like to point out that everything has a price, including Facebook and Instagram. If the price isn’t money, then it is the information being provided to the companies that they can sell to advertisers. It is ok to give out some private information but teens need to be aware of what is being collected. An easy example to illustrate how data mining is occurring is with Amazon and the suggestions for other products that come up when you are shopping on the site.
The good news is that teens are becoming more aware of and using the privacy settings on social media sites. They are also engaging in active reputation management by managing their social networks, masking information they don’t want others to know, and deleting people from their networks. This has contributed to a majority of teens reporting that they were more likely to have positive experiences using social media than not. As parents, the takeaway is to ensure teens appreciate the value of their personal information and that they take steps to protect their privacy so that they can continue to have good experiences online.
This article was published in the Richmond Register Health Beat Magazine in June 2013.