Pew Research Center | 

Much like their children, parents of teenagers now live in a world that is heavily influenced by digital devices and online platforms. Among parents of 13- to 17-year-olds, 94% own a desktop or laptop computer; 76% own a smartphone; 72% use Facebook; and 84% go online at least occasionally using a smartphone, tablet or other mobile handheld device. (For full details on technology ownership and use among parents of teens, see Appendix Aof this report).

And as these devices have become more prominent in the lives of parents and teens, many parents are now faced with the challenge of how to effectively monitor their child’s behavior, interactions and time spent in various online spaces. Ultimately, parents today report taking a number of steps to influence their child’s digital behavior, from checking up on what their teen is posting on social media to limiting the amount of time their child spends in front of various screens.

Parents of younger teens report they tend to take a more active role in policing their teen’s behavior, but parents of all demographic backgrounds tend to rely more heavily on personal engagement and monitoring than on technological solutions. Parents also generally monitor the digital lives of teen boys and teen girls in similar ways.

A majority of parents have personally monitored their teen’s web history or social media profile – but fewer use parental controls or tracking tools

Parents take a number of different steps to monitor their child’s behavior and interactions in digital spaces, with personal monitoring being the most prominent of these steps. Fully 61% of parents say they have checked which websites their teen has visited, while 60% report checking their teen’s social media profile. Teens are increasingly using mobile technologies to communicate, share and go online ­ and nearly half (48%) of parents say they have looked through the phone call records or messages on their child’s cellphone.

On the other hand, parental monitoring by technological means is somewhat less common. Some 39% of parents say they turn to parental controls or other technological tools to block, filter or monitor their teen’s online activities. And even fewer parents report using parental controls to restrict their teen’s use of his or her cellphone (16%) or using monitoring tools on their teen’s cellphone to track his or her location (16%).

In total, 84% of parents report taking at least one of these six steps to monitor or restrict their child’s online activities, while 16% indicate that they have not taken any of these actions with their teen. Another 16% say they do one of these activities, while just under half of parents (45%) take between two or three of these actions. Other parents are especially vigilant: 19% have taken four or five of these steps, while 5% indicate that they have taken all six.

Parents of younger teens tend to keep a more watchful eye on the types of websites their teen visits and are also more likely to use parental tools to monitor or block online content

Regardless of their teen’s age, a majority of parents say they check their child’s web browsing history, yet parents of younger teens are somewhat more likely to do so. Roughly two-thirds (68%) of parents of 13- to 14-year-olds have checked which websites their teen visits, compared with 56% of parents of 15- to 17-year-olds.

Parents of younger teens are also more likely to use tech-based tools to block or monitor what their teen does or sees online. Some 46% of parents of younger teens report using parental controls to monitor their child’s online activities, compared with 34% of parents of older teens.

On the other hand, parents of older teens are somewhat more likely than parents of younger teens to check up on their teen’s social media profiles (63% vs. 56%). Notably, older teens have higher rates of usage across a range of social media platforms.

Overall, parents of older and younger teens are equally likely to say they monitor their child’s mobile behaviors. However, when analyzing parents whose teen currently has a cellphone, a pattern of more intensive monitoring of younger teens emerges.

Half (50%) of parents of 13- to 14-year-olds say they look at their teen’s phone call records or messages, similar to the 47% of parents of 15- to 17-year-olds who engage in this behavior.

But looking specifically at parents of teen cellphone users, 67% of those whose teen is 13- to 14-years-old say they look at call records or messages on their teen’s phone, compared with 54% of parents of 15- to 17- year-olds.

Just as younger teens are more likely to experience certain types of parental monitoring, younger parents are more likely to report taking a number of these actions. Roughly two-thirds (68%) of parents under 45 years of age say they have checked which websites their teen visited, compared with 53% of parents 45 and older. Younger parents are also more likely than their older counterparts to check their teen’s social media profiles (66% vs. 53%); to use parental controls or other technological means of blocking, filtering or monitoring their teen’s online activities (44% vs. 34%); and to look through their teen’s phone call records or messages (55% vs. 41%).

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