Teens' Online 'Friends' Often Number in Hundreds A majority of teenagers who go online maintain one or more profiles at social networking Web sites. Most teens restrict access to to their profiles, but "friends" who access the profiles routinely number in the hundreds.
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Teens' Online 'Friends' Often Number in Hundreds

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Teens' Online 'Friends' Often Number in Hundreds

Teens' Online 'Friends' Often Number in Hundreds

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We're going to focus now on what kids in high school and middle school are doing online these days.

And with us is Mary Madden, senior researcher with the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

Welcome to the program.

Ms. MARY MADDEN (Senior Researcher, Pew Internet & American Life Project): Thank you so much for having me.

SIEGEL: First of all, you study online usage by teens and younger children. What can you tell us about how much time they typically spend online, and what the trends are?

Ms. MADDEN: Well, over time, we've seen that more and more teenagers are online. And so at this point, 93 percent of teens ages 12 to 17 use the Internet, and that's up from just 73 percent in 2000 when we did our first study. Over time, the frequency and intensity of their Internet usage is also increasing such that most teens are using the Internet every single day.

SIEGEL: We heard in Laura's story that whenever places like Facebook or MySpace offer privacy settings, people jump at them and use them. Do you think that's true, that kids really appreciate the privacy, or is the whole idea that you should put something out that everybody from Albuquerque to Zambia should be able to see?

Ms. MADDEN: Well, I think the space is full of a lot of contradictions because on the one hand, we see that teenagers who use social networking sites are actually quite savvy about their privacy and restricting access to friends only, for instance.

So, 55 percent of online teens maintain a profile on a social networking site, and most of them restrict access to it in some way. However, it depends on how many people you have as friends. If you have a network of 300 friends, all of a sudden that private network starts to become very public.

SIEGEL: As far as parents whose kids might be using these sites - I know you're not, you know, Pew isn't in the business of giving guidance, but personally, what did you think about this statement, I really can't tell my kid not to put her picture out on Facebook?

Ms. MADDEN: I think that's a smart assessment. I think that a lot of this relates to the concept of self-literacy online. And so, this is the idea that we need to be aware of the various digital footprints that we leave online. And so, one basic thing that parents can do is sit down with their child and simply Google their name.

SIEGEL: Mm-hmm.

Ms. MADDEN: They can also share experiences perhaps that they've had about information that has persisted online about them and how they've dealt with that. Also, even though this technology has presented a lot of challenges for parents, it has presented a lot of resources for them.

So you have sites like GetNetWise or Netsmart, ConnectSafely.org. These are all great resources for parents in finding advice and tips to help stay connected with their kids and keep them safe.

SIEGEL: But it seems like what parents find on those sites - some, let's say, appropriate object lessons for kids of different ages - was to try to tell an 8-year-old that, you know, when you're applying for a job, somebody's going to see — or in your college application, someone will Google you and see the picture that you shot when you were doing whatever - that doesn't sound like it would make a lot of sense to a very young child.

Ms. MADDEN: That's right. And younger children are more likely to be interested at that point in games; games are one of the first point of entry for young teenagers. And what we see in our research is that parents are doing things like putting the computers in a public place in the home, for instance. That's one of the most basic things that's recommended by those that promote online safety. Also, doing things like monitoring your children's Internet use, whether that's through the use of a filter or simply being in the same room while they're on the computer.

I also think simply talking to your children, being involved, perhaps even creating a profile and friending your child on these social networks. But you need to realize…

SIEGEL: Your children really appreciate that…

Ms. MADDEN: Yeah, but it might creep them out. And that they can create a fake profile, of course, to friend you and they could have another profile that they use to interact with their friends, so that's something to be aware of and something to talk about.

SIEGEL: Do you think, by the way, just get the sense that kids who are growing up doing all these things are going to be adults who will just have very different values about what is literally their space and what is public space where information about them is just shared widely?

Ms. MADDEN: I do think that as a society, especially as these teenagers move into college and into the workplace, we will need to become more forgiving of some of these sort of information indiscretions. I think many people will find that over time, with the persistence of information online, there will be more and more sort of personal data left, the worse gone bad, and we'll understand, I think, that you can't really control some of this, and that certain choices made in one's life when you are a teenager shouldn't necessarily be held up to sort of judge your willingness or ability to perform a job at, you know, age 35, for instance. So I think over time, we'll come to think about things a bit differently.

SIEGEL: You assume that when today's 10-year-olds are 35, the 50-year-olds doing the hiring at that point would also have experienced a great deal of this perhaps.

Ms. MADDEN: Absolutely. And we're seeing even among adults that fairly - a fairly small number have done a simple act of plugging their name into a search engine. Only 47 percent of online adults have Googled their name online right now. And I think we're going to see that number increase over time as people realize - I need to at least be as aware as other people are of what information is out there about me.

SIEGEL: Mary Madden, thank you very much.

Ms. MADDEN: Thank you so much, Robert.

SIEGEL: Mary Madden is senior researcher with the Pew Internet and American Life Project.

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