New Study Analyzes Parental Practices Regarding Children’s Internet Use
A new report on parents’ attitudes towards their children’s media consumption suggests that parents are doing more than ever to promote online safety. Is that actually the case, or do we just feel like we’re doing a better job?
This week, the Kaiser Family Foundation released a new report on parents and their children’s media consumption. The report is the fifth in a series of parent surveys over the last nine years. They conducted a telephone survey among 1,008 randomly selected parents with children ages 2-17, as well as half a dozen focus groups across the country. Much of the report focused on general media consumption, including broadcast and cable television, but a section of the report on Internet use suggests that parents feel they are vigilant when it comes to their kids’ online activities.
According to the survey, a vast majority of parents say they are confident in their awareness of what their children are doing on the Internet. Nearly three out of four parents (73%) who have children ages nine and above that use the Internet stated that they knew “a lot” about their kids’ Internet usage. In contrast, 19% said they knew “some,” five percent knew “a little” and only two percent claimed they knew “nothing.”
One result of the survey that some might find surprising is how parents regard the Internet’s influence on their children. While 59% of those surveyed said they felt the Internet was mainly a positive influence on their kids, only seven percent felt it was a negative influence. Thirty percent felt the Internet didn’t make a difference in their kids’ lives one way or another, while four percent didn’t know. Parents expressed some concerns about social networking sites, though they weren’t necessarily against them either:
Parents were cautious because of things they’d heard about social networking sites, and about potential predators online, but most felt they had a handle on the situation. Some parents also mentioned that their kids have heard “bad things” and are “scared” of social networking sites, so they stay away on their own. Others said their kids have made their profiles “private,” so only their friends can see them or write to them online. As one mom said, “Hers is restricted so it is friends only. Unless you have given a person permission they can’t get in. That is a very nice safeguard to have.”
Participants in the focus groups also noted other techniques they use to keep their children safer online:
Parents use a variety of techniques to monitor their kids’ Internet activities. Several said their children couldn’t get online without one of their parents entering a password for them. Another said “We definitely have an open door rule. You don’t go in a room and close the door if you are going to be on the Internet. We have one computer in the guest room and one in the family room. They are out in the open in case something happens or they need help.”
The location of the computer in a public space was a common response. Only 13% of parents surveyed allowed an Internet-connected computer to be located in their children’s bedrooms, while 65% did not. (The 22% of parents who didn’t answer yes or know didn’t have Internet access at home.) Interestingly, 10% of parents in households with Internet access didn’t allow their children to go online at all, compared with 89% who did allow it.
More parents also are adopting monitoring techniques of websites their kids visit, whether through monitoring software or reviewing browser histories. More than three quarters of parents - 76% - claim to monitor website use in one form or another, while 24% do not. Nearly half of them - 49% - say they check websites often. And for the 64% of parents who allow their kids to have their own email address, 61% monitor their inbox.
Regarding social networks, 82% of parents whose children have personal pages on sites like MySpace or Facebook say they’ve visited those personal pages. What I found surprising, though, is that only 38% of parents said their children had a profile on a social networking site. This runs counter to recent research from the Pew Internet Project. According to a study on teens and social networking sites they published in January 2007, a whopping 70% of teen girls ages 15 to 17, had profiles on social networking sites, in contrast with 57% of boys of the same age. Granted, the Pew data focused on a tighter age group than the Kaiser survey, the overwhelming number of teenage girls with social networking profiles in the Pew report makes me wonder how many parents think their children don’t have a profile when that’s actually not the case.
Taken altogether, the report suggests that parents feel they’re doing all they can to protect their kids online. Of course, there’s no way to tell how effective these techniques actually are, particularly since kids will often use the Internet outside of the home. What do you think? Do these numbers reflect your own experiences with kids? Are we really becoming more responsible when it comes to keep our kids safe online, or our we just convincing ourselves that’s the case? -andy