Parents Just Don't Understand

Thomas Dodson
February 24, 2015

Most teens craft identities online without parental involvement, according to a survey released recently by Above The Fray, a Sacramento-based nonprofit. In an anonymous survey of nearly 200 teens, 70% reported no parental oversight of their online activities.

There’s a desperate need for conversations with teens, and we’re helping parents start those.

“We identified this problem in our first youth focus group in 2014, where we spoke with 24 teens about their online lives over four weeks,” says Thomas Dodson, CEO of Above The Fray. “Getting parents involved in what their children are doing online is a primary goal of Above The Fray. And the information we’re getting from this survey is further evidence that we’re on target. There’s a desperate need for conversations with teens, and we’re helping parents start those.”

The Numbers

The survey, online and anonymous, asked teens about their online lives, what social media and gaming platforms they use, and how they navigate issues like communicating with strangers, cyberbullying, managing conflict, paying attention in school, and taking care of basic needs like sleep. The results around parent involvement were startling.

When asked, ‘Do your parents monitor your social media use or online gaming?’ just 18% of teens said yes. 70% said no. And 12% said they aren’t sure.

When asked, ‘Do your parents know your online account passwords?’ an astounding 76% said no. 13% said yes. And 11% said they aren’t sure.

“Although these results are preliminary and our data collection is ongoing, they confirm our earlier focus group findings and suggest very unsettling trends regarding teen behavior online,” says Sacramento State Communication Studies faculty member, Shawna Malvini Redden, Ph.D., who led Above The Fray’s 2014 youth focus groups. “We were especially startled at the level of sophistication in how teens craft their online identities and see privacy. Our results definitely point toward the difficulties parents face in keeping track of teen activities.”

A particular concern for Above The Fray, and key piece of the information from the youth survey is: Exactly how do young people see their parents’ role in all of this?

When asked, ‘Do you think your parents have a right to know what you’re doing online?’ 49% of respondents said no. The majority responded “no, it’s my private activity,” or “no, that would be awkward” and 2.5% “Not unless they bought my phone.”

You can read the complete survey results here.

The Solution

“I believe, we believe, that parents not only have that right,” says Dodson, “but they in fact have an obligation to do so. We’re talking about children, preteens, young adults, whatever label you want to use. They need guidance. They need boundaries. And they need rules. Mom and Dad don’t get a break when their children are online. They need to be parenting just as much online as they do offline.”

“However, we also know that we’re in a new digital age of parenting, and with all of the responsibilities parents face day-to-day, that they need help,” says Dodson. “And that’s where Above the Fray comes in.”

Above The Fray is currently offering its unique program to parent groups, including Parent Teacher Associations, civic, and faith-based organizations. The message is educational, teaching parents about what life is really like for young people online, and addressing issues like cyberbullying, sexting, gaming, and more. It’s also engaging and practical, giving parents practical and positive ways to talk with their children about online life.

For more information, please visit And to share the online survey with teens, please visit

Written by

Thomas Dodson

Thomas Dodson is Co-founder of Above The Fray, a nonprofit dedicated to empowering safe and responsible social media use. Above The Fray is presenting to parent groups across the country, sharing what life is really like for young people online. They proactively address topics like social media, gaming, sexting, cyberbullying, and more. For complete information, visit