Parental Influence and Teens’ Attitude Toward Online Privacy Protection

By Youn, Seounmi

This study examines the impact of parental influence on teens’ attitude toward privacy protection. Survey data show that teens high in conceptoriented family communication tend to engage in discussion mediation, which, in turn, affects their level of privacy concern. In contrast, teens high in socio-oriented communication tend to have more family rules and surf the Internet with parents. Rulemaking mediation is not directly related to teens’ level of privacy concern, while cosurfing mediation is related to their level of concern. This study also finds that parental mediation and teens’ concern level explain their attitude toward privacy protection measures. Implications for policymakers and educators are discussed. With teens increasingly becoming an influential online retail demographic (Business Wire 2006; Greenspan 2004), e-marketers are targeting them through new interactive marketing platforms such as gamevertising, viral video, and social networking site (Chester and Montgomery 2007; Howard 2006). These marketing practices may open opportunities for communication, product learning, and e-commerce to teens; however, they also raise public concerns about online risks resulting from teen privacy loss (Donnerstein 2002; Lenhart 2005; Willard 2006).

Among potential online risks, privacy advocates have addressed financial risks stemming from e-marketers’ attempts to collect personal information from teens (Schonberger 2005). The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) received 10,835 identity theft complaints in 2006 from teens aged eighteen and younger. This is an approximate 13 percent increase over the 9,595 complaints in 2004 (FTC 2007a) and accounts for about 5 .percent of the 225,532 identity theft complaints in 2006. That same year, 1,498 Internetrelated fraud complaints from teens aged nineteen and younger were filed with FTC, accounting for 2 percent of the 61,168 complaints in 2006 (FTC 2007b). Another online risk is the constant barrage of unwanted commercial e-mails caused by teens giving their private information to e-marketers (Grant 2006; Liau, Khoo, and Ang 2005).

In response to these online risks teens face, parents and privacy advocates have voiced concerns about teen privacy loss. The Pew Internet & American Life Project study discovered that 81 percent of parents believe that teens are not as careful as they should be with disclosing personal information online (Lenhart 2005). The Annenberg Public Policy Center study reported that 74 percent of parents worry that their child gives out personal information through Web sites or chat rooms (Turow and Nir 2000). In the same study, 96 percent of parents agreed that teens older than thirteen years should be required to obtain parental consent before disclosing their information online.

However, the current FTC rule under the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) does not protect privacy rights of teens aged thirteen to seventeen years, although it regulates e-marketers’ data collection on sites that target children younger than thirteen years. Consequently, privacy advocates have contended that the COPPA should be extended to include teens older than thirteen years (Aidman 2000). Given such growing concerns among parents and privacy advocates over teens’ privacy, it is important to examine how teens aged thirteen years and older perceive e-marketers’ information practices.

To date, few academic studies have addressed teens and online privacyrelated issues. Studies have examined what factors explain teens’ level of privacy concern and how their level of privacy concern has an impact on privacy coping behaviors (Grant 2006; Moscardelli and Divine 2007; Youn 2005). These studies do not, however, explore parental involvement in teen privacy issues and the influences on teens’ motivation to safeguard privacy rights. Thus, this study investigates the process by which parental influence shapes teens’ attitude toward the protection of privacy online. This study specifically attempts to answer the following questions: (1) What type of family communication patterns (FCPs) is related to parental mediation of privacy? (2) What type of parental mediation has a stronger association with teens’ level of privacy concern and their attitude toward privacy protection? and (3) How is teens’ privacy concern level associated with their attitude toward privacy protection?

To examine these questions, this study utilized the consumer socialization perspective as a conceptual framework. Research on consumer socialization has demonstrated that teens’ understanding of consumption activities and persuasion is influenced by a variety of socialization agents such as parents, peers, schools, and the mass media (Carlson et al. 1994; Mangleburg and Bristol 1998; Mangleburg, Grewal, and Bristol 1997). Among these agents, this study focuses on the role of parental influence. Indeed, there is much anecdotal evidence showing that parental interaction is the most important tool for protecting teens’ online safety (e.g., Privacy Rights Clearinghouse 2007), but few studies empirically examine the relationship among parental influence, teens’ level of privacy concern, and their attitude toward privacy protection.

The findings of this study are of value for several reasons. They will provide deeper insight into the importance of parental influence on increasing teens’ level of privacy concern and advance our knowledge in identifying teens’ attitude toward privacy protection as a function of parental influence. More importantly, a detailed understanding of teens’ attitude toward privacy protection will assist educators and policymakers in developing policies to help teens protect themselves from e-marketers’ information practices and engage in safe online activities.


Consumer Privacy and Teens’ Vulnerability

Consumer privacy has various meanings for scholars; it is a contextspecific and an ever-evolving concept. Yet, the literature illustrates the convergent view toward consumer privacy, which recognizes the importance of individuals’ ability to control their personal information within the context of a marketing transaction (Goodwin 1991; Lee 2002; Milne and Rohm 2000; Nowak and Phelps 1995; Phelps, Nowak, and Ferrell 2000). Information control assumes that consumers are able to restrict the terms under which their personal information is collected, disseminated, accessed, and used by marketers (Culnan 1995, 2000; Goodwin 1991). Information control is desirable for multiple reasons, one of which is to reduce the number of intrusive marketing messages received. This relates to consumers’ wishes to be left alone (Milne and Rohm 2000; Nowak and Phelps 1995). The view of consumer privacy as a control of personal information stems from the premise that personal information belongs to the consumer, namely, it is one’s private property (Milne and Rohm 2000; Nowak and Phelps 1992, 1995).

As the growth of the Internet facilitates e-marketers in gathering a substantial amount of personal information, consumers have little control over what e-marketers know about them and how e- marketers collect and use their personal information. Scholars have identified the conditions under which consumers lose control of their personal information and, thus, have high levels of privacy concern. Nowak and Phelps (1992, 1995) argue that consumers’ privacy concerns heighten when they are unaware that their personal information is collected and used by marketers and/or when their information is compromised beyond the original purpose without their awareness or permission. In addition, Sheehan and Hoy (2000) elaborate three more dimensions that underlie the degree of online privacy concern. The level of concern increases when consumers are asked to provide marketers with sensitive information (Phelps, D’Souza, and Nowak 2001), when consumers are contacted by unfamiliar companies that they do not trust (Milne and Rohm 2000), and when consumers perceive that the risks of information disclosure exceed the benefits (Milne and Gordon 1993; Phelps, Nowak, and Ferrell 2000).

Several studies show that teens are often exposed to potential privacy risks online. The Teen Internet Safety Study by Cox Communication in partnership with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) revealed that 71 percent of teens aged thirteen to seventeen years received messages from someone they do not know, and among them, 40 percent usually replied to and chatted with that person (Teenage Research Unlimited 2006). Forty-five percent of teens were asked to provide personal information to someone they do not know, 37 percent were not worried about someone using their personal information in ways they have not authorized, and 20 percent perceived it safe to disclose personal information on a public blog or networking site (Teenage Research Unlimited 2006). The Pew Internet Study showed that only 21 percent of teens online were concerned about mishaps involving privacy breaches in which their email, instant message, or text message would be shared with entities other than the recipient (Lenhart, Madden, and Hitlin 2005). These risks have given rise to much debate on measures to protect teens’ online privacy by policymakers, consumer advocates, and parents. Such measures include government regulation, school- based education, and industry self-regulation, which will be discussed in turn. Teens’ Privacy Protection Measures

Regarding government regulation, Congress introduced the Children’s Privacy Protection and Parental Empowerment Act in 1999. This act requires information brokers to prohibit the sale or purchase of personal information on children below the age of sixteen without parental consent (Tech Law Journal 1999). Congress also passed the Student Privacy Protection Act to safeguard the privacy of kindergarten to grade 12 students from companies that conduct market research in schools. This Act requires companies to seek parent’s written permission before collecting personal information for marketing purposes from any student below the age of eighteen (Ruskin 2001).

In 2001, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) implemented the Children’s Internet Protection Act to deal with minors’ access to inappropriate content on school and library computers. To receive federal funding on technology, schools and libraries must install filtering or blocking technologies to shield minors from harmful materials and prevent the “unauthorized disclosure, use, and dissemination of personal information regarding minors” (FCC 2006). The FTC also enacted the CAN-SPAM Act in 2004 in an effort to eradicate deceptive unsolicited commercial e-mail and provide consumers with the right to ask spammers not to send future commercial e-mails (FTC 2004). To reduce unwanted contacts by strangers on the Internet, the U.S. House recently passed the legislation to restrict teens’ access to social networking sites in schools and libraries (Romer 2006).

In concert with growing governmental regulations, consumer advocates and educators have called for implementing school-based education for privacy protection as part of media literacy programs (Brookshire and Maulhardt 2005; McCannon 2002). Media literacy refers to “the ability to critically consume and create media” (Strasburger and Wilson 2002, 422). Media-literate consumers can understand the meanings underlying commercial media messages. The NetSmartz program, sponsored by the NCMEC, has been a successful media literacy program. Students who participated in NetSmartz increased their awareness and knowledge of online risks and expressed they would be more cautious when using the Internet and sharing information (Brookshire and Maulhardt 2005).

Federal agency rulemaking and public concerns over teens’ privacy invasions have driven the industry’s efforts to self-regulate e- marketers’ information practices. Web sites targeting teens older than thirteen years do not fall under the force of COPPA, so trade associations such as the Better Business Bureaus and the Direct Marketing Association encourage companies to comply with industry standards regarding the types of personal information that can be collected from teens, who has access to it, and how it is used (Safe & Smart). Some companies offer consumers an opportunity to remove their names from marketing lists by opting out (Milne and Boza 1999; Phelps, Nowak, and Ferrell 2000). An opt-out procedure is a mechanism that enables consumers to perceive control over their information, thereby allaying the level of concern for privacy (Milne and Rohm 2000; Nowak and Phelps 1995).

The privacy-protective measures discussed above would be more effective when teens are motivated to support them. It would then be critical to identify factors that motivate teen support for these measures because such factors can help minimize privacy risks. “Adult” privacy literature has examined factors related to the level of privacy concern, which drives motivations for privacy protection. These factors include control over information (Milne and Boza 1999; Phelps, D’Souza, and Nowak 2001; Phelps, Nowak, and Ferrell 2000), knowledge about information practices (Milne and Boza 1999), attitude toward direct marketing (Milne and Boza 1999; Phelps, D’Souza, and Nowak 2001; Phelps, Nowak, and Ferrell 2000), information sensitivity (Cranor, Reagle, and Ackerman 1999; Phelps, D’Souza, and Nowak 2001), past purchase behaviors (Graeff and Harmon 2002; Milne and Rohm 2000), and demographics (Graeff and Harmon 2002; Milne and Boza 1999). Although these studies help explain adults’ motivation to protect their privacy, little has been known about factors that motivate teens to safeguard their privacy. Thus, this study, using the consumer socialization perspective, identifies factors that explain teens’ attitude toward online privacy protection.

Consumer Socialization and FCP

Consumer socialization is the process by which young people learn skills, knowledge, and attitudes necessary to their role as consumers in the marketplace (Ward 1974). Researchers have emphasized the importance of parental socialization in shaping and developing consumer norms, values, and motivation among young people (Moore and Moschis 1981; Moschis 1985). This is especially true when consumption behavior involves risks. Teens learn how to cope with potential perceived risks from both direct and indirect interaction with parents through discussions, rulemaking, reinforcement, and modeling (Koesten and Anderson 2004; Koesten, Miller, and Hummert 2001; Mangleburg, Grewal, and Bristol 1997; Moore et al. 2002; Moschis 1985; Moschis and Moore 1979). For example, Moore et al. (2002) found that teens engaged in parental interaction and more communication with parents are less likely to develop problematic sexual behaviors. Given that providing personal information to e- marketers involves a variety of risks such as identity theft, fraud, spam, or conflicts with parents (Grant 2005; Lenhart 2005; Youn 2005), parental influence is expected to be one of the most important socialization agents in increasing teens’ level of privacy concern and motivation to protect their privacy online.

In this study, parental influence is examined through FCP on consumption issues. FCPs have been conceptualized as the quality and type of communication that takes place among family members (Carlson et al. 1994; Moore and Moschis 1981). Previous FCP studies have identified two distinct patterns: socio- and concept-oriented communications (Moore and Moschis 1981; Moschis 1985; Moschis, Moore, and Smith 1984). Sociooriented communication attaches importance to harmonious relationships between parents and children, emphasizing deference and obedience to parental authority. Parents in this communication orientation advise their children to steer clear of arguments with family members and signify conformity to family values at the expense of individual expression. This pattern leads parents to monitor and control their children’s consumption activities in the marketplace while encouraging their children to utilize consumption values that are congruent with parental ones (Carlson, Grossbart, and Stuenkel 1992; Carlson et al. 1994; Moore and Moschis 1981; Moschis 1985).

In contrast, concept-oriented communication encourages children to develop and express their own views of the world through give- and-take discussions with parents. Disagreement or debate through open discussion is welcome for furthering children’s critical thinking about an issue. This communication style allows children to consider several alternatives prior to decision making, evaluate different sides of an argument, and promote independence with consumption (Carlson, Grossbart, and Stuenkel 1992; Moore and Moschis 1981; Moschis 1985; Ritchie 1991). The development of consumer skills and competence is greatly valued in this style.

Different FCPs have been found to lead to different socialization outcomes in a variety of research areas, including attitude toward advertising (Mangleburg and Bristol 1998; Rose, Bush, and Kahle 1998), ability to filter puffery in advertising (Moschis and Moore 1979), social and economic motivations for consumption (Carlson et al. 1994), children’s purchasing influence and shopping independence (Moschis, Prahasto, Mitchell 1986; Rose, Boush, and Shoham 2002), parental response to purchase requests (Carlson, Grossbart, and Walsh 1990), and media use (Carlson, Grossbart, and Tripp 1990). Yet little research has related FCP to privacy issues in the online marketplace except the Moscardelli and Divine’s (2007) study. They found that teens’ privacy concerns were influenced by concept- oriented FCP but not by socio-oriented FCP. By extending FCP to the context of online privacy, this study examines how FCPs relate to parental mediation of privacy, which, in turn, influences teens’ level of privacy concern and their resultant attitude toward privacy protection.

Relating FCP to Parental Mediation of Privacy

Parental mediation refers to any strategies parents use to supervise children’s media use or help children interpret media content (Warren 2001). Prior studies have identified three types of mediation: rulemaking, coviewing, and discussion (Fujioka and Austin 2002; Warren 2001). Rulemaking is defined as restrictions that control children’s media use in terms of quantity, time, or content. Coviewing is defined as the shared experience, in which parents and children use media together but do not necessarily engage in critical discussions about media use. Discussion refers to active discourse about media content to help children understand the underlying meanings of content (Fujioka and Austin 2002; Warren 2001, 2002). This study applies these mediations to the online privacy context, which can be captured as parental mediation of privacy (e.g., rulemaking, cosurfing, and discussion), and links FCP to these mediations. The differences between socio- and concept- oriented FCP would predict different practices of privacy parental mediation.

FCP and Rulemaking

The FCP literature has indicated that parents high on socio- oriented communication are prone to limit their children’s access to outside influences such as media because they may consider these external influences as threats to parental authority (Carlson, Grossbart, and Stuenkel 1992; Carlson, Grossbart, and Walsh 1990; Fujioka and Austin 2002; Moschis, Prahasto, and Mitchell 1986; Rose, Bush, and Kahle 1998). Those parents exert parental control through rules meant to protect children from controversial media messages or persuasive attempts by marketers (Moschis 1985). Prior research has shown that socio-oriented parents tend to place limits on children’s television exposure (Carlson, Grossbart, and Tripp 1990; Carlson, Grossbart, and Walsh 1990). Fujioka and Austin (2002) found that families with socio-oriented FCP were more likely to use the television ratings system in selecting programs for children in comparison to their concept-oriented counterparts. With regard to e- marketers’ information practices, we expect families with socio- oriented communication to impose more limits on children’s Internet use and information disclosure to e-marketers. Hence, teens growing up in the socio-oriented communication environment are more likely to have family rules concerning Internet use and information disclosure. Family rules may allow parents to reduce family disputes possibly caused by children’s information disclosure. Thus, it is hypothesized:

H1: Teens with socio-oriented FCP are more likely to have family rules about Internet use and information disclosure than those with concept-oriented FCP.

FCP and Cosurfing

The literature on FCP and parental mediation implies an inconsistent relationship between FCP and coviewing. Researchers contended that coviewing television is more appealing to concept- oriented parents because it facilitates parent-child conversations about the contents seen on television while watching together. Carlson and his colleagues found that parents high on a concept- oriented communication were more apt to coview television with their children (Carlson, Grossbart, and Tripp 1990; Carlson, Grossbart, and Walsh 1990). An inverse relationship in other studies, however, has been found. Fujioka and Austin (2002) revealed that socio- oriented parents were more likely to watch television with their children. It is argued that coviewing television is not a necessary prerequisite for purposeful parentchild discussions of content (Austin et al. 1999; Warren 2001). It seems that socio-oriented parents use coviewing as a tool for monitoring their children’s media use and exposure. On the other hand, Rose, Bush, and Kahle (1998) reported that both concept- and socio-oriented parents watched television with their children.

In the online media environment, cosurfing can be viewed as the parallel concept of coviewing, which refers to a parent and child surfing the Internet together. Despite mixed findings regarding FCP and coviewing, we speculate that cosurfing may be perceived by children as a means for parental control over their Internet use and information disclosure (e.g., Lenhart, Rainie, and Lewis 2001; Liau, Khoo, and Ang 2005). It is likely that parents browse the Internet with their children to set a model for their children to follow, instead of exchanging different ideas or opinions. Cosurfing may be used more frequently by socio-oriented parents because it allows for parent-child harmony in a controlled circumstance, alleviates conflicts resulting from children’s misuse of the Internet, and protects children from outside influences including e-marketers or controversial contents. Thus, this study develops the following:

H2: Teens with socio-oriented FCP are more likely to surf the Internet with their parents than those with concept-oriented FCP.

FCP and Parent-Child Discussion

Prior FCP studies found a positive relationship between conceptoriented communication and parent-child discussion (Carlson, Grossbart, and Tripp 1990; Carlson, Grossbart, and Walsh 1990). For parents high on concept-oriented communication, parent-child discussion is considered a precondition for developing child’s consumer competence. Carlson and his colleagues observed that concept-oriented parents had more discussions about advertising (Carlson, Grossbart, and Tripp 1990; Carlson, Grossbart, and Walsh 1990). This finding has been confirmed in the studies of Mukherji (2005) and Rose, Bush, and Kahle (1998). Mangleburg and Bristol (1998) reported that teens whose FCPs are concept-oriented showed the development of advertising skepticism, as discussions with parents are likely to foster critical attitudes toward advertising. Fujioka and Austin (2002) found concept orientation to be associated with parental engagement in critical discussions of content seen on television. Altogether, this study anticipates the following hypothesis:

H3: Teens with concept-oriented FCP are more likely to discuss e- marketers’ information collection and use practices with their parents than those with socio-oriented FCP.

Parental Mediation and Teens’ Motivation for Privacy Protection

As a socialization process, prior studies have asserted that parental mediation of media content or consumption influences the development of children’s knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors on diverse consumer issues (Austin 1993; Austin and Nach-Ferguson 1995; Austin, Pinkleton, and Fujioka 2000; Fujioka and Austin 2003; Nathanson 2001). Compared to FCP in general, it has been argued that topic-related communication tied to marketplace or consumption activities has more explanatory power in predicting socialization outcomes (Lee, Salmon, and Paek 2007; Mangleburg, Grewal, and Bristol 1997; Moschis, Moore, and Smith 1984). For example, Mangleburg, Grewal, and Bristol (1997) found that communication with parents on products, prices, or stores was related to teens’ use of product label information. Austin and her colleagues discovered that active discussion of persuasive media messages with parents affects children’s skepticism toward those messages, counteracting their undesirable effects (Austin 1993; Austin, Pinkleton, and Fujioka 2000). Other scholars have speculated that parent-child discussions would provide parents with an opportunity to talk about misleading ad claims and marketers’ selling intents (Carlson, Grossbart, and Walsh 1990; Carlson et al. 1994; Mangleburg and Bristol 1998; Rose, Bush, and Kahle 1998).

Similar to this argument, this study proposes that parent-child discussion about e-marketers’ information practices would foster critical views on privacy issues, resulting in higher levels of privacy concern. An open mode of discussion would create the atmosphere of broaching the importance of privacy rights and encourage children to engage in free inquiry on e-marketers’ information practices. Such discussions would help children evaluate all sides of possible consequences caused by giving up privacy online and weigh risks against benefits in exchange for information disclosure. Taken together, it is predicted:

H4: Teens with parental mediation based on discussion are likely to show higher levels of privacy concern about e-marketers’ information practices.

As discussed previously, parental mediations of rulemaking and cosurfing may be served as tools to maintain control over children’s Internet use and information disclosure (Liau, Khoo, and Ang 2005). Such mediations are expected to minimize family privacy risks online and avoid family disputes resulting from divulging family or personal information to e-marketers. They are unlikely, however, to facilitate parent-child discussion on privacy issues or develop teens’ critical attitude toward privacy. In line with this speculation, Mangleburg and Bristol (1998) identified that socio- oriented FCP had no significant effect on teens’ advertising skepticism. Moscardelli and Divine (2007) discovered that socio- oriented FCP was not related to teens’ privacy concerns, indicating that privacy concerns are not necessarily developed through explicit rules. Liau, Khoo, and Ang (2005) found that parental supervision such as cosurfing or checking in on teens was not effective in decreasing risky Internet behavior of meeting with someone encountered on the Internet. These findings imply weak linkage between rulemaking and cosurfing mediations and the increase of teens’ privacy concerns. Due to a lack of compelling evidence on the relationship between these parental mediations and teens’ critical attitude toward marketers’ information practices, this study examines the following research questions:

RQ1: What is the relationship between rulemaking mediation and teens’ level of privacy concern?

RQ2: What is the relationship between cosurfing mediation and teens’ level of privacy concern?

In a similar vein, this study asserts that parental mediation of privacy would directly affect teens’ attitude toward the protection of online privacy. As the outcome of consumer socialization, teens’ attitude toward privacy protection measures would be important because it may lead to their engagement in privacy coping behaviors. Still, little is known about the effect of privacy parental mediation on teens’ attitude toward privacyprotective measures.

A small number of studies have just begun to examine how different types of parental mediation have an impact on children’s online activities (Lee and Chae 2007; Liau, Khoo, and Ang 2005; Rideout, Roberts, and Foehr 2005). Lee and Chae (2007), for instance, found that parental mediation of the Internet had a favorable impact on children’s educational online activities when parents recommended useful Web sites and co-used the Internet with their children. Restrictive mediation, such as time limits and Web site prohibition, appeared ineffective for guiding children’s Internet use. These findings indicate that parental mediation of privacy may serve as an important contributor in explaining teens’ support for privacy protection measures, such as government regulation, school education, and name removal request. Since an influence of parental mediation on teens’ attitude toward privacy protection has not previously been examined in the literature, this study offers the following research question: RQ3: What is the relationship between privacy parental mediation and teens’ attitude toward privacy protection measures?

Level of Privacy Concern and Attitude toward Privacy Protection

Prior studies suggest a positive relationship between the level of concern and privacy protection behaviors. LaRose and Rifon (2007, 133) regarded privacy involvement as “a heightened state of attentiveness to privacy protection” and argued that consumers highly involved with privacy issues are more likely to attend to and read privacy statements and resist e-marketers’ requests to provide personal information. It is argued that consumers with high privacy involvement expect negative consequences from information disclosure. Milne and Culnan (2004) discovered that higher concerns for privacy were positively related to a tendency to read online privacy notices as a strategy to handle privacy risks. In the studies of an online panel and student sample, Milne, Rohm, and Bahl (2004) found that the level for privacy concern was a strong predictor of online privacy protection behaviors. Sheehan and Hoy (1999) found that as privacy concern increased, consumers tended to adopt privacyprotective behaviors.

In line with the studies conducted with the adult population, several studies have examined how the level of privacy concern among teens is related to their privacy protecting behaviors. Following up on the research of Sheehan and Hoy (1999), Moscardelli and Divine (2007) found that teens with higher concern for online privacy were more likely to use behaviors that would assist in protecting them from privacy risks. Youn (2005) uncovered that teens’ unwillingness to disclose information to e-marketers was positively related to their privacy coping behaviors such as falsifying personal information, providing incomplete information, or seeking alternative Web sites that do not ask for information. Based on these findings, the study posits that teens desire to support privacy-protective measures when they are concerned about online privacy. Therefore, the following hypotheses are developed:

H5a: Teens’ level of privacy concern would be positively related to their attitude toward governmental limits on marketers’ information gathering and use.

H5b: Teens’ level of privacy concern would be positively related to their attitude toward school-based education for privacy protection.

H5c: Teens’ level of privacy concern would be positively related to their motivation to have more information about how to remove their name from lists.

All constructs and relationships discussed in the hypotheses are presented in Figure 1.


Data Collection and Samples

The survey data were collected from 395 students at one public high school in a mid-sized Midwestern city, with a 31 percent participation rate. Respondents’ age ranged from fourteen to eighteen years, with an average age of fifteen years. Fifty-six percent were female. The sample was relatively homogenous, with 85 percent of the respondents being identified as Caucasian. After receiving approval from the district superintendent, the school principal supported the project. The school received a $2.00 contribution for each completed questionnaire. The teachers handed out the parental consent forms in class and collected the signed forms. Students also signed the consent form and completed the surveys in class under the teacher supervision.


The survey instrument consisted of items to measure the following constructs: (1) FCP, (2) privacy parental mediation, (3) level of privacy concern, (4) attitude toward privacy protection, and (5) demographics. All the items for each construct are listed in Appendix 1, and the correlation matrix, along with descriptive statistics, is presented in Appendix 2. Two dimensions of FCP, concept- and socio-oriented communication, were respectively measured with six items developed by Moschis, Moore, and Smith (1984). Responses were estimated on a 4-point scale anchored by 1 = “never” to 4 = “very often.” Concept-oriented FCP had an alpha of .67 and socio-oriented FCP had an alpha of .77. For further analysis, raw scores were summed.

Three privacy-related parental mediations were examined: (1) rulemaking, (2) cosurfing, and (3) parent-child discussion. The items to measure privacy mediations were developed specifically for this study, reflecting the literature on parental mediation of advertising and the media (Austin et al. 1999; Carlson, Grossbart, and Tripp 1990; Carlson, Grossbart, and Walsh 1990; Rose, Bush, and Kahle 1998; Valkenburg et al. 1999; Warren 2001) as well as that on teens and privacy (e.g., Lenhart, Rainie, and Lewis 2001; Turow and Nir 2000). The wording was modified to consider relevance to Internet use and privacy issues. It is important to note that these measures examine teens’ perceptions of parental mediation on Internet privacy, instead of inquiring parents about the actual mediation.

For rulemaking mediation, teens were asked whether they have family rules regarding Internet use and information disclosure. Those who reported having family rules were then asked to indicate what kinds of specific family rules they have. Eight items were rated using a “yes” and “no” dichotomous format, with a summated index adding the items, and higher scores indicating more family rules. Cosurfing was measured by asking teens how often they surf the Internet with their parents. Parent-child discussion was measured by asking how often teens talk to their parents about the ways that companies collect and use personal information online. Both measures were rated on a 4-point scale ranging from 1 = “never” to 4 = “very often.”

The level of concern for online privacy was assessed with four items. One item measuring the general level of privacy concern was derived from prior privacy studies (Milne and Boza 1999; Phelps, D’Souza, and Nowak 2001; Phelps, Nowak, and Ferrell 2000). Teens were asked how concerned they were about the ways that companies collect and use their personal information on the Internet. The responses were assessed using a 4-point scale anchored by 1 = “not at all concerned” and 4 = “very concerned.” The remaining three items were developed from various industrial surveys on consumer privacy (e.g., BusinessWeek Online 2000; Cranor, Reagle, and Ackerman 1999; DDB Needham 2003; EPIC 2007; Harris Interactive 2002; Fox et al. 2000). These surveys examined privacy invasion caused by Web site tracking of users, insecure transaction on e-commerce sites, and company request for excessive amounts of personal information from consumers. This study borrowed items from these surveys and modified the wording for teens. Responses were measured with a 4-point scale ranging from 1 = “strongly disagree” to 4 = “strongly agree.” Four items were aggregated, with higher scores meaning greater concerns about online privacy, and had an alpha of .61.

To assess teens’ attitude toward online privacy protection, the survey contained three items designed to rate their support for governmental regulation, school education, and industry self- regulation such as an opt-out option. The three items were generated from prior studies investigating beliefs regarding privacy protection (Nowak and Phelps 1992) and attitudes toward information control (Phelps, Nowak, and Ferrell 2000). These items were also selected because they represent important areas of privacyprotective measures to safeguard teens’ privacy. They were estimated by a 4- point scale anchored by 1 = “strongly disagree” and 4 = “strongly agree.” The wording has been tailored for teens where necessary.

To determine other factors that may affect the relationship among the focal variables under study, this study included the following variables that have been found to influence the outcome of consumer socialization: gender, age, Internet use, and peer influence (Boush, Friestad, and Rose 1994; Lenhart and Madden 2007; Mangleburg and Bristol 1998; Mangleburg, Grewal, and Bristol 1997; Moscardelli and Divine 2007; Youn 2005). Studies found that female teens were more concerned about online privacy and were more susceptible to privacy risks (Moscardelli and Divine 2007; Youn 2005), older teens were more apt to disclose their personal information to a Web site (Lenhart and Madden 2007; Turow and Nir 2000), and heavier users of the Internet tended to show higher privacy concerns, while there were no clear peer influences on privacy concerns (Moscardelli and Divine 2007). Thus, this study used these variables as covariates. Age was measured in years. Internet use was estimated by asking the frequency of Internet use. Peer influence was assessed by three of the items developed by Bearden, Netemeyer, and Teel (1989) (alpha = .61), which were used by Boush, Friestad, and Rose (1994).

Data Analysis

To test the hypotheses, this study performed hierarchical multiple regressions. Potential predictor variables such as demographics, Internet use, and peer influence were entered in the first block as control variables. After this, the independent variables to be tested for each hypothesis were entered into the regression equation as a separate block, sequentially. The entry order of the variables permits examination of whether the variables of interest account for any additional variance in the criterion variable that is not explained by previously entered predictors. This analytic approach provides a stringent test for the impact of privacy parental mediation and privacy concern level on teens’ attitude toward privacy protection. This study also tested a multicollinearity problem for the parental socialization measures to confirm that these measures are distinguishable constructs. The results indicated little problem with multicollinearity, suggesting that these measures appeared to be discernible in the minds of teens. RESULTS

H1-H3 investigated whether different styles of FCP would lead to different parental mediations of Internet use and privacy issues. As illustrated in Table 1, teens with socio-oriented communication were more likely to have family rules (beta = .191, p = .002) and surf the Internet with parents (beta = .181, p = .003). Teens with concept-oriented communication appeared to talk more with their parents about companies’ information practices (beta = .200, p = .003). Therefore, the hypotheses regarding FCP and parental mediation were supported. Notably, this study revealed that teens with socio-oriented FCP tended to engage in parental mediation of discussion, although the relationship was not statistically significant (beta = .105, p = .083).

This study developed H4 and two research questions (RQ1 and RQ2) concerning the relationship between parental mediation and teens’ concern level (Table 2). As predicted by H4, teens’ discussion with their parents led to higher levels of privacy concern (beta = .233, p = .000). RQ1 and RQ2 were related to the influence of parental mediations of rulemaking and cosurfing on the level of concern for privacy. Rulemaking mediation was not a significant predictor in explaining the privacy concern level (beta = .076, p = .142). On the other hand, cosurfing mediation turned out to be positively related to the level of privacy concern (beta = .119, p = .026).

RQ3 examined the relationship between parental mediation and teens’ attitude toward privacy protection. Rulemaking and cosurfing mediations led to support for government regulation (beta = .127, p = .016 for rulemaking; beta = . 112, p = .040 for cosurfing). Rulemaking and discussion mediations led to support for school education (beta = .108, p = .043 for rulemaking; beta = .148, p = .008 for discussion). Desire for name removal request was not significantly related to any style of parental mediations. Discussion mediation had a marginal relationship with the desire for name removal request but did not reach significance (beta = .093, p = .098).

As expected in H5a-H5c, the results found a positive relationship between teens’ privacy concern level and their attitude toward privacy protection, even after other variables were controlled. Privacy-concerned teens tended to be in favor of supporting government regulation (beta = .231, p = .000) and school education (beta = .247, p = .000), and desired to receive more information about name removal request (beta = .255, p = .000) (Table 3).


With the consumer socialization perspective as the theoretical framework, this study found the role of parental influence in motivating teens to protect their privacy online. The findings supported the contention that general FCPs affect teens’ perceptions of privacy-related parental mediation, which, in turn, have an impact on heightening their privacy concerns and formulating their attitude toward protective measures. The findings also showed that privacy-concerned teens want to protect their privacy with support for government regulation, school-based education, and name removal request. These results provide valuable insight for consumer educators and media literacy practitioners, who aim to increase parental involvement in teens’ Internet safety as a socialization agent.

Results showed that teens perceiving their FCP as concept- oriented were more likely to engage in family discussions on e- marketers’ information practices. This perceived mediation, subsequently, tended to increase their level of concern for privacy. On the contrary, teens citing their FCP as socio-oriented reported to have more family rules, and importantly, such perceived mediation did not contribute to increasing the level of concern. Teens citing their FCP as socio-oriented also perceived cosurfing as a way of interacting with their parents; however, unlike rulemaking mediation, cosurfing was related to increasing the level of privacy concern.

These findings confirm the argument that concept-oriented FCP promote the open mode of family discussion on privacy issues. Such discussion mediation appeared to be more effective than rule-driven parental mediation in augmenting the strength of privacy concern. A further comparative analysis revealed that those teens who have talked to their parents showed a greater level of concern than those who have not (mean = 10.23 vs. 8.76, t = 5.37, p

Socio-oriented FCP have been argued to control and supervise children’s information disclosure through explicit rule setting. Such rulemaking mediation that does not help teens increase the level of privacy concern necessary to safeguard privacy from e- marketers’ information requests. This study initially viewed cosurfing as a means of parental control over teens’ Internet use and information disclosure and speculated a weak linkage between cosurfing and the level of concern. Counter to this expectation, a positive relationship between cosurfing and the concern level was found. Several explanations for this finding are possible. Cosurfing may provide opportunities of having parent-child conversations about privacy issues, which lead to the high level of concern. Alternatively, cosurfing may function as a gatekeeper for screening e-marketers’ influences on children. Parents may cosurf because they wish to impart their negative attitude toward e-marketers with their child. This would also lead to an increase in teens’ privacy concerns. Future research should examine this possible dual nature of cosurfing mediation-a trigger for either a discussion or a gatekeeper, or both, for filtering e-marketers’ influences.

Parental mediation has been found to influence teens’ attitude toward privacy-protective measures. Mediations of rulemaking and cosurfing were related to a more positive attitude toward government regulation, and mediations of rulemaking and discussion were related to support for school education. Teens with rulemaking and cosurfing mediations may appreciate and yield to parental authority because parental guidance, in the form of explicit directives or modeling, is a way of interacting with their parents when they are online. For privacy protection, these teens may thus rely on governmental force as an alternative authority figure to parental control. In tandem, teens with rulemaking mediation would support a stronger role of school education with a similar reason. However, teens reporting discussion mediation may see school education as a source of learning privacy issues and favor school-initiated media literacy programs as a means of developing consumer skills to deal with e- marketers’ information practices. This study also found that the different styles of parental mediations did not relate to teens’ desire to receive more information about how to remove their name from marketing lists. Regardless of different types of mediations, it seems that most teens feel unsolicited marketing messages online intrusive, leading to interests in the opt-out serf-regulatory option. Further research needs to explore the reasons for this result.

When interpreting the role of parental influence on teens’ motivation for protection, caution needs to be taken with regard to parental influence measures. The findings on parental influence are based on the perceived parental mediation by teens, which is formed through their own perspective, but not on the actual mediation reported by parents. The objectives of this study were to identify teens’ privacy concern level and their attitude toward privacy protection, instead of parental concerns over teens’ privacy and parental attitude toward privacy protection for teens. Thus, an examination of how teens’ perception of FCP and parental mediation influences their level of concern and attitude toward privacy protection is more appropriate and has more practical implications for educators or policymakers. Teens may receive maximum benefits when the policies are developed on the basis of their own evaluations. Teens’ perceptions of their parents’ views may better explain the development of their beliefs and attitudes toward privacy issues. Parents’ views on mediations do not always transform into their children’s views, indicating “a weak correspondence” between the two views (Carlson et al., 1994; Fujioka and Austin 2003, 418; Nathanson 2001). Given this information, the perceived parental influence by teens, compared to the actual mediation by parents, may have its own unique impact on the socialization outcomes about privacy issues.

Due in part to the nature of parental mediation measures, this study does not indicate a causal relationship between parental mediation and teens’ motivation for privacy protection. Since parental mediation is measured from teens’ perspective, discussion, for example, may influence teens’ level of privacy concern, but teens’ level of concern may also generate discussion with parents. Even though our conceptual model assumes that parental influence plays a role in explaining teens’ motivation for privacy protection, the correlational nature of the relationship should be considered when interpreting the results.

Conclusions stemming from the findings should be tempered by the limitations of this study. Despite the fit of the regression models, a substantial amount of variance in teens’ attitude toward privacy protection measures remains unexplained. Some possible explanations for this include the following. A single-item measure was used to measure parental mediation (e.g., cosurfing and discussion) and teens’ attitude toward privacy protection. The skewing of an item is more likely to occur to a single-item measure, especially in the area of privacy research. This would make it difficult to detect relations, thereby resulting in a small amount of explained variance. Multiple items might measure the construct better and explain more variance. Research on teens and privacy issues is newly emerging, so the formal scale consisting of multiple items has not yet been developed for privacy parental mediation. Future research needs to develop the scale to measure this construct. Parental mediation measures may be problematic because they did not offer a comprehensive list of online activities that parents and teens might discuss. They did not include the domain of social networking sites or chat rooms, in which most teens are currently engaged. Instead, they focused on e-commerce-related activities in the commercial Web sites. Online transactions are not as common with teens as social networking activities. Emphasis on the domain of e-commerce in measuring parental mediation may offer an explanation for weak effects. This suggests a need to include social networking activities for future research. This study also asserts that parental influence plays a pivotal role in explaining teens’ motivation for privacy protection, but other predictors may contribute to an increase in the explained variance of the models. For example, personality factors such as locus of control or self- efficacy in privacy protection would be possible factors to consider.

As public concerns with privacy invasion among teens grow, there is a need to develop effective privacy education for this segment. By applying the consumer socialization perspective to the online privacy context, this study explored the role of parental influence in increasing teens’ privacy concerns and their subsequent attitude toward privacy-protective measures. It is hoped that consumer advocates and educators find these results valuable when developing policies for privacy protection of teens.


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