January 8, 2007 12:16 PM PST

Study: Majority of teens stay private online

Just more than half of all U.S. teens use social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook, according to a new Pew Internet & American Life Project study.

But of those 55 percent of teens, age 12 to 17, who have created a personal profile online, 66 percent say that their information is not visible to all Internet users, according to Pew Internet, the nonprofit research arm of the Washington-based Pew Research Center.

"There is a widespread notion that every American teenager is using social networks, and that they're plastering personal information over their profiles for anyone and everyone to read," Amanda Lenhart, a senior researcher at Pew, said in a statement. "These findings add nuance to that story."

Since social networking sites like MySpace and Friendster exploded on the teen scene more than three years ago, it's become of national concern that kids are posting too much information about themselves and are at risk of being solicited by predators. That has caused a range of action: Some schools have banned children's use of MySpace; legislators have proposed new online rules for social networks; and worried parents have turned to software to monitor their child's activities online. Sites such as MySpace also have taken it upon themselves to institute security measures to protect younger members.

The Pew survey attempts to examine teenagers' attitudes and habits regarding social networking. The Pew Internet Project interviewed 935 teens age 12 to 17 from October to November 2006. It said the survey has a margin of error plus or minus 3 percentage points.

The survey found that 55 percent of online teens use social networks, and 55 percent of teens have created an online profile. Among all those surveyed, older girls age 15 to 17 were the most active users of social networks. Older girls use the sites to reinforce pre-existing friendships, and boys use social networks for flirting and making new friends, according to the report.

Of those surveyed, 48 percent of teens visit social networking sites daily and 22 percent visit several times a day.

About 91 percent of all teens on social networks say they use them to stay in touch with often-seen friends. About 82 percent use the sites to stay close with friends they rarely see in person. Making plans is also a popular activity on social networks--72 percent of those surveyed said they use sites to make plans. Another 49 percent use the sites to make new friends.

"Both boys and girls rely on social networks to keep close tabs on their current friends, but older boys are much more likely to use them to meet new friends and flirt in the comfort of an online environment," according to the researchers.

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