April 28, 2015 —

Every month, we’re keeping you informed on the latest studies and research in our “Not My Teen” blog series. Today, we’re looking at teens' activitiies online and what type of parenting works best.

With teens using social media on a daily basis, online parenting has become more important than ever. But, what exactly is the best way to parent your teen when it comes to being safe on social media? Researchers from Penn State recently conducted a secondary analysis on Pew Research Center’s “Teens and Privacy Management Survey” taken by 588 teens and their parents living in the United States. In analyzing the data, Penn State researchers specifically looked at how parental privacy concerns and parental privacy strategies may influence a teen’s own privacy concerns and social media privacy behaviors. Researchers focused on two things when analyzing this research: parental strategies and teen behaviors on social media.

Parental strategies were identified as:

  • Direct parental intervention: Parents who adopt this strategy take on preventative measures, such as implementing parental controls and setting up social media privacy settings.
  • Active parental mediation: Parents who adopt this strategy are more reactive in their approach to teen online safety. Instead of directly intervening, these parents might monitor their teen’s behavior online and talk with their teen about what he or she posts.

Teen social media privacy behaviors were identified as:

  • Privacy risk-taking behaviors: Teens who exhibit these behaviors tend to partake in risky interactions online (i.e. disclosing and sharing sensitive personal information).
  • Privacy risk-coping behaviors: Teens who exhibit these behaviors tend to take measures to protect their privacy (i.e. blocking or deleting individuals from Facebook).

The results show that teens’ whose parents used a direct parental intervention strategy were more cautious and conservative in their online behaviors. These teens also disclosed less information on social media sites and sought more advice on how to manage their online privacy. Although this parenting strategy encourages teens to be conservative online, researchers suggested that teens are not necessarily learning how to properly cope with risky situations online.

On the other hand, teens’ whose parents used an active parental mediation strategy shared more sensitive information online, but also took corrective behaviors to protect their online privacy. Essentially these teens exhibited both risk-taking behaviors and risk-coping behaviors.

Overall, researchers recommended that parents use a balance of both strategies when parenting teens on online safety. Pamela Wisniewski, a post-doctoral scholar commented on the findings saying that the combination of both strategies will allow parents to “protect their teens from severe online risks while empowering them to benefit from online engagement and make good online privacy choices.”

As parents, it is important to be aware of what information our teens are sharing online. We need to adapt our parenting styles so that we are adequately informing our teens about online safety while simultaneously giving them the opportunity to benefit from engaging with their peers online. It can be hard to relinquish control of this part of your teen’s life, but if you actively show that you genuinely care about their online safety, it will make a difference.

Learn more about the study and its findings here. Do you have any online parenting tips or techniques? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below!