How Teens View Social Media, Privacy

Teens can be a fickle group. A recent survey of 802 teens confirmed what I already knew from my 17-year-old son … Facebook is getting old.

According to the May 2013 Pew Research Center report, “Teens, Social Media, and Privacy,” teens are getting tired of the adult presence on Facebook, and many are moving to Twitter and Tumblr

Teens also reported they don’t like the “drama” on Facebook. It must be getting hard for them to manage those 300 or so friends the average teen has on Facebook. (My son has well over 1,000 “friends.”) Teens are turning to picture mobile phone apps like Instagram or Snap Chat, a site that claims that any picture you send will disappear in 10 seconds. I guess the drama is less if you believe that whatever you say to someone will disappear in seconds.

What do the youth surveyed say they post online? According to the Pew report, 91 percent post pictures on their online profiles, 92 percent post their real name, 82 percent post their birthdates, and 20 percent post their cell phone numbers. Those on Facebook are more likely to keep their profiles private, while those on Twitter tweet publicly. Older teens are more likely to share information online than younger teens. The report draws the conclusion that perhaps, because Facebook requires users to sign up using a real name, youth have become more comfortable sharing other identifying information online.

My son’s first experience in an online community was Club Penguin when he was about 10 years old. It is a site that is now owned by Disney and advertised as a “safe site” to introduce children to social media. There is a monthly cost to join Club Penguin, but it seemed worth it to me if they were monitoring the site and making it safe for children. The site held his interest for a short time, but he soon became a teenager.

One of the original social media sites that teens flocked to was MySpace. No teenager wanted their parents on MySpace and MySpace always made me nervous. Teens were supposed to be 14 or older to sign up for a MySpace account, but lying was easy. Sometimes kids created “dummy” accounts for their parents to sign onto, when, in reality, they had another secret account. Then Facebook came along and kids left MySpace behind.

Facebook changed how teens interacted on social media. It required users to sign up with real names.  And, to my surprise, kids were “friending” their parents. According to Pew, 70 percent of youth are online friends with their parents.

Today, youth are on multiple social media sites. Whether it is Twitter or Instagram, Facebook or Pinterest, parents still need to remember to talk to their kids about protecting their personal information and avoiding inappropriate comments or pictures.

If we can believe the Pew study, our teens are doing a pretty good job protecting themselves. The report states that “only 4 percent of online teens say they have shared sensitive information online that later caused a problem for themselves or other members of their family. Another 4 percent have posted information online that got them in trouble at school.”

Let’s hope that teens, fickle though they may be, continue to use social networking responsibly.

Sparky Harlan, Executive Director/CEO at Bill Wilson Center, is a nationally recognized advocate for youth in foster care and in the juvenile justice system, as well as homeless and runaway youth.

Sparky Harlan, Executive Director/CEO at Bill Wilson Center, is a nationally recognized advocate for youth in foster care and in the juvenile justice system, as well as homeless and runaway youth.


  1. Thousands of years of social interaction taught mankind that privacy has value; a currency that, once spent, cannot be recovered. These young people, made reckless by natural impulse and a greed-based technology, are doomed to spend their lives dragging the truth, lies, and rumors of their pasts along with them like a ball and chain.

    I pity them.

  2. The youth talk tech. For youth, it’s not even tech––it’s just their lives. Social networking like Twitter, Tumblr and facebook are life. Text messaging is life. Instant messaging is life. I love it. Because these youthful tools are collapsing the ancient scaffolding erected to keep “power” in the hands of the privileged few.

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