The Newest Data on Keeping Teens Safe Online

Jennifer M. Puckett Child Safety Liaison Officer and US Production Manager, eModeration

Posted on November 19th 2013

The Newest Data on Keeping Teens Safe Online

ImageI recently attended the Family Online Safety Institute’s (FOSI) annual conference in Washington, DC. The FOSI conference is one of the most highly anticipated of the year; it's where digital industry experts gather to present their latest research and insights about how young people interact and behave online.

This year, in particular, has seen the challenge of new restrictions imposed by the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), as well as the growing use of smartphones and tablets by teens and the 12- to 17-year-olds.

Connect, Empower, Share

This year FOSI’s theme was Connect, Empower, Share. FOSI CEO Stephen Balkam’s welcoming remarks set the tone for the two-day event. “Parents: be the change you want to see in your kids. Adults: give kids the power to enjoy the internet for good.” Excellent statements for the past, present and future!

How are teens and tweens protecting themselves online?  

A report presented by FOSI and conducted by the Hart Research Associates, “Teen Identity Theft: Fraud, Security, and Steps Teens are Taking to Protect Themselves Online," found that over three-quarters of teens are concerned about the privacy of their personal information being harmed by their online activity”.  Yet fewer than 30% believe that they are personally vulnerable to having their identity stolen.

These stats indicate that while most teens are using privacy settings to some degree, more than two in five have not set privacy settings for some of their online accounts. And where they do use privacy settings, their use varies between different platforms and apps. For example: a teenager’s Facebook profile may have their full name but they don’t share their phone number there. And while they may not share photos of themselves on Twitter, they do on Instagram.  

So how do teens manage their social privacy?

  • 74% have deleted contacts from a social media network (it is unclear how much of this could be attributed to bullying/alienation behavior)
  • 59% have deleted or edited something they posted in the past
  •  53% have deleted comments from others on their profile or account
  •  45% have removed their name from photos where they have been tagged
  •  31% have deleted or deactivated an entire profile or account
  •  19% have posted updates, comments, photos or videos that they later regretted.


None of this is a great surprise, and it highlights the fact that young people feel the same about online safety as the rest of the public. Many believe that they are at risk, but few believe that it “can happen to them.” Best news of all, however, is that teens are asking for help or advice on managing their online privacy. Peers and parents are the first port of call.    

danahboyd: “It’s Complicated: Teen Privacy in a Networked Age”

Danah’s brilliant presentation translated the disconnect between how teens and parents communicate. She stated:

  • Teens care about privacy (contrary to belief). They may choose specific media to share, and will share at different levels depending on the medium. Teens realize that the default philosophy behind social media is to share, but they recognize that the sharing is not always meant for them. This includes how and what they share with their parents!
  •  Teens are doing innovative things to achieve privacy. For example, if a teen is aware their mom is checking their Facebook page, they may send  “coded” messages to their friends.  These nuanced messages aren’t necessarily dangerous, but allow teens to make a private connection in public.
  • Adults are blocking teens’ ability to achieve privacy. If adults and parents are too involved in their kids’ social lives, teens will find new ways to protect their privacy. They will make use of different social media so they can segregate their lives and keep parents out.

Teens participate in public, but don’t always want to be public

But just because teens want to participate in public, doesn’t mean they want to be public. Like all of us, they are trying to balance private and public lives. They understand and appreciate a parent’s role in their lives, but this level of surveillance isn’t creating safety, just the illusion of safety.  

So what do we do?

Do not lock young people out of public life. Teens need to be supported in how to think about these issues - and even fail. Helping them figure out problems themselves will help them learn. The digital industry, parents, teachers and mentors all need to be part of this.

Rosalind Wiseman: “Masterminds and Wingmen”

Rosalind Wiseman presented her newest book: “Masterminds and Wingmen.” Rosalind’s work with young men found that society doesn’t give them the credit or the support that they deserve. Young men are complicated beings that need guidance in order to become the men that we want them to be.

She also explained that parents often feel disconnected from their kids – regardless of gender - particularly when it comes  to technology.

  • “We don’t give good advice to boys, we give sound bites. And because of this, they don’t trust adults.”Boys, like girls, are learning how to navigate social situations and may not know how best to handle a situation. How do these issues impact boys as they get older, and how can we, as adults, give them the advice and support that they deserve?
  • “We need to teach young men that asking for help is a skill, a capacity. Not a weakness.”  If we do not give them an open, safe space to ask for help then we will fail them as human beings. Young men deserve a space where they can ask for and receive  help to navigate challenging social situations (offline and online).
  • “Dignity is not negotiable. It is fundamentally tied to how we interact with each other. (It) teaches you to be socially competent.”  As adults, we need to feel ok admitting our mistakes. Being honest with young people helps us gain their trust, and open up to us.



Jennifer M. Puckett

Child Safety Liaison Officer and US Production Manager, eModeration

Jennifer is the Child Safety Liaison Officer and US Production Manager for social media management agency eModeration. She has been managing communities since 1998, most notably working with Disney and Smartbomb Interactive, leading their online safety initiatives. Jennifer manages eModeration's US-based moderation team while supporting child online safety programs, training and education.

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