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The Big Disconnect: What Teens Do Online and What Parents Believe

The gap in awareness between parent and child in terms of where they go, what they do, who they talk to on the Internet is well-trodden research territory. Symantec's own Norton Online Living Report went there, with data on how much time kids spend online and what their parents think (kids are online twice as long as parents realize.) Today's study from Common Sense Media sheds even more light on social networking activities and the relative cluelessness of parents.

Kids are checking in to their social networks far more, sharing more information, making mistakes and even joining more social causes than Mom and Dad knew. Of course, for most kids, the level of awareness and understanding their parents have about their online lives is pretty good. It all depends on how you choose to stay connected. Here are some highlights from the study:

-   22% of teens check social networking sites more than 10 times a day, while only 4% of parents believe kids are checking that much
-    51% of teens check social networking sites more than once a day, while only 23% of parents say their kids check more than once a day
-    28% have shared personal information that they normally wouldn't have shared in public
-    25% have shared a profile with a false identity
-    39% have posted something they regretted
-    26% have pretended to be someone else online
-    54% have joined an online community or Facebook/MySpace group in support of a cause
-    34% have volunteered for a campaign, nonprofit, or charity

Common Sense Media has some tips for parents who desire greater connection with their online kids and to provide more guidance in appropriate online behavior:

  • Talk often about life in the digital world and what it means to be a safe, smart digital citizen: remind kids that online posts can last forever, and that potentially anyone can see them. If they wouldn't put something up in the hallway in school, they shouldn't post it on their pages. (Sounds like "The Talk" - a great way to get started improving your awareness of your child's online life, before school begins.)

  • Get yourself an account: see for yourself how your kids' online world works - it'll be easier for you to understand what they're talking about.

  • Make sure your kids set privacy settings: they aren't foolproof, but they're important
  • Set rules for what they can and can't say, post, and play online: the bottom line - posts with drugs, drinking, sexual posing or activity will come back to haunt them. If they wouldn't say it to someone's face, they shouldn't post it.

Note: When it comes to getting "in the loop" with your children, there's nothing better and easier to start with than OnlineFamily.Norton - and it's free until January 2010.