Beyond simply talking with teens about online safety and civility, parents and other adult caregivers have other actions and technical tools at their disposal to help maintain their awareness of their child’s online activities.
Overall, parents are more likely to favor less technical steps for monitoring their child’s online behavior. More than three-quarters (77%) of parents say that they have checked to see what websites their child has visited. Two-thirds of parents of online teens have checked to see what information was available online about their child. More than six in ten teens report that they know their parents have checked their social media profile, and 41% of parents of online teens have friended their child on a social network site.
66% of parents of online teens have checked to see what information about their teen is available on the internet.
In the age of widespread use of social network sites by teens, many parents have become vigilant about monitoring their child’s activities online, the information that is available about them, and their comings and goings on social network sites.
Two-thirds of parents (66%) say they have searched for their child’s digital footprints online. Mothers who use the internet (75%) are considerably more likely than fathers (55%) to report checking on their teenage child’s digital reputation, and higher-income parents are more likely to do this than those who live in households with more modest incomes. White and black parents are more likely to report this type of searching than Latino parents, as are parents with greater levels of education.
The oldest girls ages 14-17 are more likely to have their parents search for information about them online than the youngest boys, with 72% of the parents of older girls searching, compared with 55% of the parents of younger boys. Social media and use of mobile phones also relate to parents searching online for information about their child. Teens with cell phones, teens who have sent and received sexts, as well as social media users are all also more likely to have their parents check and see what information is available about them online.
Parents who themselves have experience using social media are more likely to perform these checks. The most active parents checking on their child’s digital material are those who have connected with their children via social network sites.
Parents are becoming more vigilant in monitoring their teen’s online browsing.
The proportion of parents who say they check on the websites their child visits online has risen since 2006. Some 77% of the parents of online teens say they do this, compared with 65% who said they did so in our 2006 survey.
White parents of online teens (83%) are more likely to check the websites of their browsing teens than black parents (75%) or Latino parents (64%). Parents in higher-income households and those with at least a high school diploma are also more likely than others to check up on their teen’s online travels. The age and gender of the teenager are not associated with this kind of parental vigilance. The parents who have become friends with their teen on social network sites are also more likely to have done this.
Checking the social network site profile of teen
Nearly two-thirds (61%) of social media-using teens report that their parents have checked their social network site profile. White and black teens were more likely than Latino teens to report that their parents had checked their social media profile. According to teens, parents with a high school education and above were more likely than parents with lower levels of education to check the content of the teen’s online profile. Teens who had directly experienced online cruelty were also a bit more likely than those who had not to have parents who checked their online profile.
39% of parents have friended their teenager on social network sites, but being connected to a child that way does not necessarily ward off problems.
Taking monitoring social media a step further than simply checking their child’s profile or web usage, some 39% of all parents of teens are friends with or otherwise connected to their children via social network sites. That translates into 45% of online parents. We arrive at that overall figure by noting that 87% of parents of teens use the internet. Of them, 67% use social network sites. Of those parents who use social network sites, 84% say they have children who use social network sites. Finally, 80% of those social media-using parents whose teens also use social media have friended or connected with that child via social media.
Interestingly, there are no notable demographic differences among parents who make this kind of online connection with their teenagers and those who do not – either by gender, race, age, or class.
Parents who friend their teens on social media are more likely to implement other online safety or parental control measures.
Parents who have friended their teen on social media are more likely to use some forms of parental controls. Nearly two-thirds (63%) of parents who friend their teens use parental controls, while only 31% of parents who are not social media friends with their teens use these tools on their computer. Those who connect with their kids via social network sites are also considerably more likely than others to have checked on the material that is available online about their teenager: 85% of the parents in this group have checked to see what information is available online about their child, compared with 45% of the parents who belong to a social network site but have not friended their teen. However, parents who friend their teen are just as likely as those who do not to say they use parental controls on their child’s cell phone (33% vs. 29%).
Friending parents on social media is associated with an increased likelihood of parent-child conflict over social media.
Friending a teen on social media may have some protective effects, but it is not without its costs, too. Teens whose parents report that they are friends with their child on social network sites are more likely than teens who aren’t friends with their parents to say that they had a problem with their parents because of an experience on social media (18% vs. 5%).
Teens themselves have mixed feelings about being friended by their parents on Facebook. Some teens saw it as a normal part of a parent’s job and were relatively unbothered by it:
MIDDLE SCHOOL GIRL: [Parents] should just check in every once in a while.
MIDDLE SCHOOL BOY: I friended my mom without even thinking about it. For one thing, she’s never on Facebook. And for another, I don’t really care if she sees what I do. I’m not going out and drinking or whatever with bunches of people I don’t know, so she can look.
Others thought parents friending teens was more of an affront:
MIDDLE SCHOOL GIRL: My mother is [on Facebook]. She doesn’t have me as a friend. That’s crazy serious.
And some teens explained that other people in their lives like coaches and cousins kept an eye on them through Facebook:
MIDDLE SCHOOL BOY: My parents check my wall. Sometimes even coaches check my wall.
MIDDLE SCHOOL GIRL: My coach is my [Facebook] friend…he’s like ‘oh, bring the spikes’ or ‘oh our uniforms are here.’ He posts random stuff on my wall. Our whole track team has their own page.