Years ago there was a public service announcement that aired just before the late night news: "It's 11 o'clock. Do you know where your children are?"

The ad was designed to alert parents that perhaps they need to pay more attention to what their kids children doing in the physical world. Today, the ad could read "Your kids are online 24/7; do you know what they're doing?" Most parents think they do, but when you ask the children, they think their parents are a lot less clued in.

A newly released study (The Online Generation Gap: Contrasting attitudes and behaviors of parents and teens) conducted by Hart Research Associates for the Family Online Safety Institute found a "generation gap" between what parents think they know about their kids online behavior and what the kids think their parents know. The survey is being released at the institute's annual Internet safety conference taking place this week in Washington, D.C.

Ninety-one percent of parents say they are "well informed about what their kids are doing online and on their cell phones," but when you ask teens, only 62 percent say their parents are well informed (21 percent) or somewhat well informed (41 percent).

When it comes to Twitter, the study found 38 percent of parents say they are "well informed" about their teen's use of the service, compared to 14 percent of teens who think their parents are fully clued in.

That a 24 percent gap. There's an 18 point gap for Facebook and a 14 percent gap for Pinterest when it comes to how well informed parents think they are compared to what their kids think.

Monitoring


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The study found that 84 percent of parents report that they monitor their teens' usage very (31 percent) or fairly (53 percent) closely, compared to 39 percent of teens who say their parents monitor them very (11 percent) or somewhat (28 percent) closely, which represents a 45-percentage-point gap between parent and teen perceptions. There are some interesting differences based on age and whether kids live in a one or two parent household. Younger teens (13-15) are considerably more likely (45 percent) to say they're very or somewhat closely monitored, compared to 27 percent of 16-17 year-olds. Teens who live in households with two parents are more likely (41 percent) to say they're monitored than those who live in single-parent households (31 percent).

Does the gap matter?

Some will undoubtedly fret over the perception gap between teens and parents, but based on other data from this survey, I'm not all that concerned. Although I don't know of any old studies to prove this, I suspect that there has always been a gap between what parents think they know about their kids and what kids think their parents know. It certainly was the case in my family when I was a teen.

My parents had some idea of what I did during the day, but there were many gaps in their knowledge as I went about my teenage life out of their sight whether it was via bicycle during my younger teen years or when I slipped away in the car once I turned 16. What's important isn't that parents micromanage their kids or track their behavior, but whether they have an open relationship that allows for general communication about important life events and values.

Kids feel safe

One of my reasons for optimism is the finding that "95 percent of teens say they feel very (37 percent) or somewhat (58 percent) safe online," and that parents agree. Ninety four percent of parents say they feel their teen is very (36 percent) or somewhat (58 percent) safe online. Just 5 percent of teens and 6 percent of parents say they feel unsafe.

What I like about this data is that it tracks with reality. The fact is that most children are reasonably safe online; the vast majority of kids are not being bullied or harassed by peers or victimized by predatory adults. The Internet -- like life itself -- will never be 100 percent safe, but most children are pretty savvy and it's reassuring to see that parents generally agree.

Email Larry Magid at larry@larrymagid.com.