Call it “monitoring,” “checking up,” “keeping tabs on,” or whatever other generous euphemism you prefer, but most parents -- over three quarters, in fact -- are snooping around their teenage children’s social media profiles, according to a new survey by online coupon purveyor vouchercloud.net. This probably comes as a surprise to approximately nobody. But for those of you wondering about the ethical ramifications, it may be comforting to learn that just 12% of parents feel guilty about conducting social media surveillance. Embrace your inner snoops, people!
Asked about their motives for monitoring their teens’ social media activity, 85% of parents surveyed said they wanted to learn more about their children’s lives, and 83% said they worried that their children might be posting inappropriate content online.
Matthew Wood, the managing editor of vouchercloud.net, explained: “Snooping may get a bad reputation, but essentially many teenagers don’t want to talk to their parents about their online activity, so a lot of the time parents don’t have much of a choice.”
No question, parents have plenty of reasons to keep tabs on their kids’ social media usage. Earlier this year a survey by Cox Communications and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children found that while 31% of teens reported being the victim of online bullying, only 41% of these have told an adult. The survey's other findings weren’t any more likely to assuage parental anxiety: 73% said they had shared personal information or potentially inappropriate content online, including photos (73%), their phone number (21%), curse words (21%), their physical location (19%), their address (12%), and sexual comments or pictures (5%). A separate survey of British teens found 21% had posted negative comments, while 26% said they had hijacked someone else’s account to post damaging content, and 43% said they had exchanged messages with strangers.
On the other side, teens are fully aware that their parents may be snooping, and adopt various countermeasures, according to a 2012 survey by McAfee. Overall 71% of teens said they hide their online activity from their parents, while only 56% of parents were aware of this. In terms of specific strategies, 53.3% of teens said they clear their browser history, 45.9% minimize browsers when their parents are around, 18.9% delete inappropriate videos, and 19.9% manipulate privacy settings to block their parents.
Meanwhile continuing shifts in social media usage patterns will make it harder for parents to keep up. A recent survey from Project Tomorrow, a non-profit organization focused on digital technology for education, confirmed that teenagers are leaving social networks like Facebook in favor of social apps. In 2013 just 30% of middle school students and 39% of high school students said they are maintaining a profile on a social networking site, down 40% from 2009. The drop in social network use has been accompanied by a rise in social apps like Instagram, Snapchat, and Vine, which are now used by 44% of students in grades 6-12.