Contrary to popular belief, parents are not clueless about kids’ use of tech

By Larry Magid

A new study commissioned by the Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) found that the majority of parents are “highly confident” in their ability to manage their child’s technology use, and “most feel they know a lot about what their children do when using technology.” The survey also found that parents worry about their children’s personal safety (75%) and privacy (67%)  more than other questions they were asked about such as performance in school (55%), social relationships (54%) and physical health (51%). Most parents (78%) say they believe that technology use has a positive effect on their child’s future career and life skills, while 64% think it positively affects his or her creativity.

The study Parents, Privacy & Technology Use is available online. In October 2015 Hart Research conducted an online national survey of 589 parents of six to 17 year-olds who access the Internet.

Source: Family Online Safety Inst

Source: Family Online Safety Inst

Parents are confident and knowledgable

Screen Shot 2015-11-17 at 9.17.00 AMOne of the most important findings is that nearly six in ten parents (59%) are “highly confident” in the ability to manage their child’s technology. This debunks the popular myth that parents are powerless when it comes to helping kids use technology in an appropriate manner.  Parents of younger children are even more likely (69%) to feel that they can track what their kids are doing with tech. The study found that 81% of parents “think they know a lot or most of what their children do” when using technology. And the parents who say they know more about their kids tech use are more confident about their ability to manage it.

Another fact that may surprise some if that 65% of parents say they know more about technology and online activities than their child does. Only 20% say they know more than their child. The data was not broken down by the age of the child (I would assume that it would be different if applied only to parents of teens) but nevertheless paints a picture that flies in the face of the notion that kids are more tech savvy than parents.

Not surprisingly, parents feel they know more about their children’s use of Facebook than they do with texting or some newer apps such as Twitter and Snapchat. That’s likely because many parents are themselves Facebook users.

The study also found that 78% of parents believe that their child’s technology use “has a positive impact on his or her future, career, and life skills,” while 64% think it positively affects his or her creativity

Parental controls and trust

Screen Shot 2015-11-17 at 9.17.50 AMJust over a third (36%) of parents say they have used parental controls (meaning they may have used them in the past but not now) to limit or monitor their children’ activities. A slightly higher number (37%) say they do other things to manage or oversee their kids tech use. Of those parents who don’t use control or monitoring software, 41% say they trust their child and 39% say they have rules that the kids follow. Overall, 87% of parents say they have rules for their child’s technology use including when and how their kids can get online.

Parents perception of being role models,

How adults behave can have a big impact on how children act so it’s good to know that more than 90% of parents give themselves an “A” or a “B” when it comes to their being a good role model. Of course, this is self-perception and not based on any external evaluation of how the parents are doing.  Still, 19% of parents say they have posted something online about their child that the child has found embarrassing. recommends that parents be very cautious before posting anything about their child (especially tweens and teens) as well as making comments or responses to what their child posts.

Analysis — ‘The Times They Are a Changin’

Despite numerous articles about how parents are clueless and less tech savvy than their children, it turns out that the majority of today’s parents do feel they have a handle on how their kids are using technology. One reason, I suspect, is that many of today’s parents grew up with technology and use it themselves on a daily basis. Now that adults are on social networks and using mobile phones, there is a more level playing field between parents and kids. And, with an increasingly number of adults using technology at work, the may finally have come for parents to feel a lot more confident in their ability to help manage their family’s use of technology.

Disclosure: Larry Magid is on the board of the Digital Trust Foundation which provided funding for this project.