Do surveys about parents’ concerns increase digital-parenting confidence?

Predictably, the media coverage of a new survey of parents on digital-age parenting focused mainly on their concerns about tech and the Net. We need to question that – question the value of repeatedly reporting about concerns if, as a society, we want parents to feel confident in helping their children navigate today’s media. Here are some questions we might ask, for example:

1. UK psychologist Simon Moore raised one very good one on a panel following the unveiling of the study at last week’s annual FOSI Conference: “We spend half our time in the real world and half in the digital world, sometimes more. Are we more at risk in one than the other? Are parents concerned about their children’s behavior in the real world? That needs to be looked at.” But surveys about digital parenting not only don’t “look at that,” they don’t reflect that blended digital/physical reality or help parents understand the importance of working with the whole child and his/her experience as a whole, because they’re living their lives in both spaces. Asking people about their concerns about something pulls it out of context and reinforces the belief that it’s the thing in an of itself to be concerned about.

2. How helpful is it to parents to read about each other’s concerns – when the news report can provide no insight into how informed the survey respondents are on what risks there really are, whether their own children could be exposed to them, or what chance the risks have of actually leading to harm for their own children or all children?

3. Doesn’t repeated voicing of concerns reinforce them rather than grow the confidence (which did not come up in the coverage much but which the survey also looked at) that helps parents engage in the parent-child communication that does increase kids’ online wellbeing?

4. “Only 26% of those surveyed felt the benefits of allowing their children to use sites such as Facebook outweighed the potential risks,” The Guardian cites the research from Hart Associates and the Family Online Safety Institute as finding. But Hart surveyed US parents. Maybe UK parents have similar concerns, but what about parents in developing countries who have not (yet?) been conditioned to fear the Net and digital media’s impact on kids? Should they be?

5. Instead of asking parents if they’re concerned, when are we going to start asking parents how their children are developing the media, digital and social literacy skills needed for safe, effective use of digital media and technology – or how they’re helping their kids get those skills?

But there is some very interesting data in the Hart report

Here are the takeaways I found most interesting:

  • Clearly, we need to increase parents’ confidence in dealing with digital practices. “Nearly all parents talk to their kids about technology, but less confident parents do so far less often” – 73% of “very confident parents” do, 65% of “fairly confident” parents and 47% of “less/not confident parents,” Hart reported.
  • Are teachers and schools prepared for this?: “Teachers/schools are the most trusted source for information about kids’ use of technology.” Thirty-eight percent of parents said this would be the most trusted source on “how to best maximize benefits and minimize harms of children using technology.” Very interestingly, their own children were respondents’ No. 2 source (good for them!) in the Top 5 at 29%, followed by parenting Web sites and magazines (27%), other parents (26%) and pediatricians (22%).
  • Connected kids are very connected. Hart listed these devices – desktop/laptop, videogame console, cellphone or smartphone, tablet and MP3 player – and found that 58% of all parents and 69% of Hispanic parents say their kids personally own three or more of those devices.
  • Among children who have their own phones, the average age for getting them was 11 (39% got theirs at age 10 or younger). Among kids who didn’t yet have phones, 14 was the average age parents gave for when their kids would get one (“34% will not get one until age 15 or older and 5% will not get one at all,” Hart reported).

Please check out the survey for all the findings, and tell me in Comments below what you found most interesting.

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