The Pew American and Internet and Life Project continues to deliver useful and insightful reports about human behavior and our use of the Internet.
In its most recent report, entitled "Teens, Privacy and Online Social Networks: How teens manage their online identities and personal information in the age of MySpace,"
some key memes emerge which should provide parents and other relatives (especially the older ones who didn't grow up with the Web) regarding their increasing savvy about both the risks and opportunities presented by the digital media.
Lead sound bytes:
- 55% of online teens have profiles online; 45% do not.
- Of those who do, 66% says their profile is not visible to all Internet users and that they limit access to their profiles in some way.
- Among those who profiles can be accessed online, 46% say they give at least a little and sometimes a good deal of false information on their profiles.
- Most teens are using the networks to stay in touch with people they already know, either friends they see a lot (91%) or friends that they rarely see in person (82%)
- 32% of online teens have been contacted by strangers online -- this could be any kind of online contact, not necessarily contact through social network sites.
- 21% of teens who have been contacted by strangers have engaged an online stranger to find out more information about that person (that translates to 7% of all online teens)
There are also some general lessons extrapolated from the findings that may be useful to parents and other guardians of teens using the Internet:
- Teens post a variety of things on their profiles, but a first name and photo are standard.
- Boys and girls have different views and different behaviors when it comes to privacy.
- Older teens share more personal information than younger teens.
- To teens, all personal information is not created equal. They say it is very important to understand the context of an information-sharing encounter.
- Most teen profile creators suspect that a motivated person could eventually identify them. They also think strangers are more likely to contact teens online than offline.
- More households have rules about Internet use than have rules about other media
The report also makes the general point that teenagers are exceptionally astute and all-embracing of the digital interactive media.
They observed from a 2000 report that teens had embraced instant messaging and other online tools, and by 2004 in another major study had taken to blogging and a wide variety of content creation activities:
"Teens who adopted these tools were no longer only communicating with text, but they were also developing a fluency in expressing themselves through multiple types of digital media -- including photos, music and video."
Social networking continues to drive the evolution of teens' use of the Internet, and this latest Pew report indicates that teens themselves are increasingly astute about their identities and release of personal information online. But continued vigilance and education on the part of parents and guardians of teens online are key to continuing that evolving savvy.
You can download the report directly here.