New research: parents had a tougher time keeping up with teens’ online activities in 2023

5 February 2024

For generations, parents and caregivers around the world have said that parenting is rewarding and enjoyable and at the same time, tiring and stressful. Enter the digital age and those joys and challenges only increase. Today, on international Safer Internet Day, we’re releasing new research showing that in 2023, parents found it more difficult to keep up with their teens’ online activities, and parents’ trust in their teens to act responsibly online faltered. This research was conducted across all devices and platforms – not just Snapchat. 

Our latest research findings show that parents’ trust in their teens to act responsibly online fell in 2023, with only four in 10 (43%) agreeing with the statement, “I trust my child to act responsibly online and don't feel the need to actively monitor them.” This is down six percentage points from 49% in similar research in 2022. In addition, fewer minor-aged teenagers (13- to 17-year-olds) said they were likely to seek help from a parent or trusted adult after they experienced an online risk, a drop of five percentage points to 59% from 64% in 2022. 

Parents underestimated their teen's exposure to intimate or suggestive imagery by 11 percentage points – a question that was added in 2023. Parents’ ability to gauge teens’ overall online risk exposure also slipped. In 2022, the difference between teens’ reported digital risk exposure and parents’ accuracy in gauging it was two percentage points. Last year, that delta widened to three percentage points. 

The results are part of Snap’s ongoing research into Generation Z’s digital well-being and mark the second reading of our annual Digital Well-Being Index (DWBI), a measure of how teens (aged 13-17) and young adults (aged 18-24) are faring online in six countries: Australia, France, Germany, India, the UK and the US. We also surveyed parents of 13 to 19-year-olds about their teens’ experiences with online risks on any platform or device that they use, not just Snapchat. The poll was conducted between 28 April 2023, and 23 May 2023, and included 9,010 respondents across the three age demographics and six geographies. 

Here are a few additional high-level findings:

  • 78% of Gen Z teens and young adults said they experienced some online risk in early 2023, up two percentage points from 76% in 2022.

  • 57% of Gen Z respondents said they or a friend were involved with intimate or sexual imagery in the prior three months, either receiving it (48%), being asked for it of themselves (44%), or sharing or distributing photos or videos of someone else (23%). Moreover, 33% of respondents said this imagery spread beyond the intended recipient. 

  • Half (50%) of parents said they were unsure about the best ways to actively monitor their teens’ online activities.   

Year Two DWBI 

The Digital Well-Being Index assigns a score of between 0 and 100 to each respondent based on the respondent’s agreement with a range of sentiment statements. Individual respondent scores are then compiled to generate country scores and a six-country average. Across the six geographies, the 2023 DWBI was unchanged from 2022 at 62, a somewhat average reading. As for the six individual countries, for the second year in a row, India registered the highest DWBI at 67, underpinned by a strong culture of parental support, but down one percentage point from 68 in 2022. Australia, Germany, the UK and the US all registered identical readings to 2022 at 63, 60, 62 and 64, respectively. France also dipped one percentage point to 59 from 60 in 2022. 

The index leverages the PERNA model, a variation on an existing well-being theory1, comprising 20 sentiment statements across five categories: Positive Emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Negative Emotion, and Achievement. Taking into account all of their online experiences on any device or app – not just Snapchat – over the preceding three months, respondents were asked to register their level of agreement with each of the 20 statements. For instance, under the Positive Emotion category, statements include: “Often felt proud” and “Often felt delighted,” and under the Achievement group: “Learned how to do things that are important to me.” (See this link for a list of all 20 DWBI sentiment statements.) 

Learning from the results

At Snap, we continue to leverage these and other research findings to help inform our product and feature design and development, including for Snapchat’s Family Centre. Launched in 2022, Family Centre is our suite of parental tools, designed to provide parents and caregivers with insight into who their teens are messaging on Snapchat, while preserving teens’ privacy by not disclosing the actual content of those communications. 

In the initial version of Family Centre, we also offered parents the ability to confidentially report accounts that may be of concern to them and to set content controls. As of last year, for those new to Family Centre, content controls are “on” by default – a change sparked by feedback from child safety advocates. We announced additional Family Centre features last month and now provide parents the ability to disable My AI, Snapchat’s AI-powered chatbot, from responding to chats from their teens. We’ve also improved the discoverability of Family Centre generally, and we’re offering parents a view of their teens’ safety and privacy settings. Set to the strictest levels by default, parents can now see settings related to who can view their teens’ Snapchat story, who can contact them, and whether their teenager has elected to share their location with any friends on the Snap Map.  

US-based Teens: Apply to our new Council for Digital Well-Being 

To help animate our ongoing research, last month, we kicked off the application process for our first Council for Digital Well-Being, a pilot programme for teens in the US. We’re creating an inaugural council composed of a diverse group of around 15 young people between the ages of 13 and 16. We want to listen to, and learn from each other and continue to make Snapchat – and the overall technology ecosystem – a safer, healthier, and more positive environment for creativity and connection between and among close friends. Applications will remain open until 22 March, and we will offer selected candidates a position on the council this spring. 

The programme will feature monthly calls, project work, engagement with our global Safety Advisory Board, an in-person summit the first year, and a more public event in the second year, showcasing the teens’ knowledge and learning. For more about the application process, see this post and apply here

We’re eager to establish this pilot teen council and look forward to marking Safer Internet Day 2025 with them! Meantime, we encourage everyone to get involved in SID today and throughout 2024!   

— Jacqueline Beauchere, Global Head of Platform Safety

Our Digital Well-Being research yields findings about Gen Z’s exposure to online risks, their relationships, and their reflections about their online activities over the preceding months. There is so much more to the research than what we are able to share in a single blog post. For more about the Digital Well-Being Index and research, see our website, as well as this updated explainer, the full research results, and each of the six country infographics: Australia, France, Germany, India, the United Kingdom and the United States.

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1 The existing research theory is the PERMA model, which breaks down as follows: Positive Emotion (P), Engagement (E), Relationships (R), Meaning (M) and Accomplishment (A).