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New Study Shows Significant Gaps in Perceptions about Teens’ Online Behavior

Research released today by the Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) explores the online generation gap between parents and teens and reveals a number of disparities in their views about online safety. These gaps in perception demonstrate that great advancements can and should be made to improve communication between parents and teens about online behavior. The nationwide online survey polled 511 teens and 500 parents who access the Internet and was conducted by Hart Research Associates, an independent research company.

Key survey findings include:

  • Teens think parents are less informed: The vast majority of parents (91 percent) say they are well informed about what their teens do online and on their cell phones. Teens are much less likely to say their parents are informed about these activities. Three in five teens say their parents are very (21 percent) or somewhat (41 percent) well informed about what they do online.
  • A disconnect exists in online safety conversations: Ninety three percent of parents say that they have talked to their teens about online safety. However, only 61 percent of teens reported having this conversation with their parents.
  • Parents underestimate teens’ concerns about potential consequences of their online activities: Less than a quarter of parents (21 percent) say teens are most concerned about identity theft, when this is a top concern for a plurality of teens (44 percent). Fewer than 10 percent of parents say teens are worried about online posts creating problems with colleges or employers, when in reality 30 percent of teens say these are top concerns.
  • Parents are monitoring more than teens think: Seventy percent of parents whose teen uses a cell phone have reviewed their teens’ cell phone text messages and 79 percent have reviewed their teens’ browser history. Eighty four percent of parents whose teen uses a cell phone report that they monitor their teens’ cell phones at least somewhat closely. Only 39 percent of teens who use a cell phone report that their parents monitor their cell phones somewhat closely, showing a 45-percentage-point gap between parents’ and teens’ perceptions of parental monitoring.

The survey findings also show promising news:

  • Teens take steps to protect their privacy online: Among teens who use social networks, 81 percent report having used privacy settings on their account, 65 percent have set limits on who they share their posts with and 50 percent have unfriended someone due to an offensive post.
  • Teens don’t mind monitoring: Fewer than half of teens who report close parental monitoring say they are bothered by their parents’ knowledge of their online or mobile activities. A majority of teens say a parent looking over their shoulder does not present a great nuisance, and more than half of teens say they are not that bothered (32 percent) or not at all bothered (22 percent) by their parents following or monitoring what they do online or on their cell phone.
  • Teens feel safe online and parents agree: Ninety five percent of teens feel they are at least somewhat safe online and ninety four percent of parents feel their teens are at least somewhat safe online.

“The goal of this survey was to better understand and address the online generation gap between teens and their parents,” said Stephen Balkam, CEO of FOSI. “While significant gaps exist, it’s heartening to see that the majority of teens understand the consequences of their actions online and are taking the right steps to be good digital citizens. By better understanding the differences in perceptions between parents and teens, we can work together to improve communication and make the Internet a safer and more productive place for families.”

The survey was released at FOSI’s annual conference and was made possible with the support of Google and Microsoft Corp. For more information about the survey and the annual conference, please visit the Annual Conference 2012 page on the FOSI website. Follow the conference on Twitter: #fosi2012.

About the Family Online Safety Institute

The Family Online Safety Institute is an international, non-profit organization that works to make the online world safer for kids and their families. FOSI convenes leaders in industry, government and non-profit sectors to collaborate and innovate new solutions and policies in the field of online safety. Through research, resources, events and special projects, FOSI promotes a culture of responsibility online and encourages a sense of digital citizenship for all. FOSI’s members include: AOL, AT&T, BAE Systems Detica, BT Retail, Comcast, Disney, Entertainment Software Association, Facebook, France Telecom, Google, GSM Association, Microsoft, Mind Candy, Motion Picture Association of America, NCTA, Nominum, Optenet, Sprint, Symantec, Time Warner Cable, Telefónica, The Cyber Guardian, The Wireless Foundation, Verizon and Yahoo!. For more information, visit

About Hart Research Associates

Founded in 1971, Hart Research Associates is one of the leading survey research firms in the United States and has been at the cutting edge of change in the field of public opinion for more than three decades. In that time, Hart Research Associates has conducted well over 5,000 public opinion surveys and has administered and analyzed interviews among more than three million individuals. Hart Research Associates has also undertaken more than 5,000 focus group sessions. To learn more, please visit the Hart Research Associates website.

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