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Teens largely self-reliant when it comes to online privacy

Girls are more likely to ask for help with online privacy.

In the age of social media, online privacy concerns are a consistent issue. A new survey reveals where teenagers, who often don’t realize the impact a digital footprint can have on college and career aspirations, turn for online privacy advice.

Most teenagers between the ages of 12 and 17 said they rely on their own judgment to manage their own online privacy when using social media, but the majority of teens surveyed (70 percent) said they have asked friends (42 percent), parents (41 percent), or a sibling or cousin (37 percent) for help.

(Next page: What groups are most likely to ask for online privacy advice?)

Just 9 percent of students have asked a teacher for help with online privacy.

Girls are more likely than boys to ask for help with online privacy (75 percent vs. 66 percent), and younger teens ages 12 and 13 are more likely than older teenagers to ask for help and to have talked about social media privacy with their parents (58 percent vs. 33 percent).

Forty-eight percent of teenagers with household incomes of $75,000 or more seek online privacy advice from parents, while 33 percent of teens with household incomes of less than $33,000 a year seek advice from their parents, according to the survey.

“I think parents don’t understand that we can apply life skills onto the internet, whereas it’s a little more confusing, maybe, for them, that switch. But because we’ve grown up with it, we can easily see, OK, stranger in real life, stranger on the computer, same thing,” one 16-year-old female participant said.

Other participants said they were unsure of their teachers’ ability to adequately address online privacy concerns, and said that apart from one or two internet safety classes at school, online privacy is not a consistent part of their education.

Facebook’s often-changing privacy settings can confuse many users, but most teens said they keep their Facebook profiles fully private or partially private.

Sixty-one percent of teenagers who actively seek online privacy advice set their Facebook profiles to private, compared to 56 percent of teenagers who do not seek online privacy advice.

Responding teenagers also said they are aware that online privacy settings on social media tools change and require monitoring to ensure that the desired level of privacy is maintained. Most teens said they learned about online privacy settings through trial and error, notifications, and tutorials.

The Pew Internet & American Life survey collected responses from 802 teenagers ages 12-17 and 802 parents in September 2012. In a joint effort with the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard, the survey includes data from focus groups on privacy, digital media, and social networking.

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Laura Ascione

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