A new tech-parenting survey by BlogHer and Parenting magazine found huge gaps between parents’ fears and kids’ actual experience of online risks.
By Anne Collier
To me, the most interesting slide in the BlogHer/Parenting magazine national survey of moms is the one about the difference between their fears vs. their kids’ experience of what they fear: Mothers’ biggest concern, quite naturally, is inappropriate communications with an adult online (62% share this concern), but only 1% of moms surveyed said their kids had experienced such communication. Next were cyberbullying (57% concerned, 1% had kids who’d experienced it) and sexting (56% vs. 1%). The rest were online pornography (55% vs. 4%); “addictive online behavior” (53% vs. 5%); identity theft (51% vs. 0%); and that their children might interact with hate groups online (52% vs. 0%).
The two populations of moms surveyed were Parenting magazine’s “MomConnection,” a nationally representative panel of 464 mothers age 18+, and 568 “digital-savvy moms” 18-49 who are members of the BlogHer Publishing Network for a total sample of 1,032 women.
In this sample, interestingly, the numbers for moms using parental controls are higher than many of us in the online safety field are accustomed to seeing: 85% are very or somewhat likely to use them for TV, computers, and Web browsers, the survey found. As for the most common such technologies, filtering and monitoring, 95% are very or somewhat likely to set content limits and 97% to monitor their kids’ online activities with the kids’ knowledge (60% without their kids’ knowledge). In another form of monitoring, 98% are very or somewhat likely to keep tabs on their children’s social networking by friending them in those sites. Two other popular aids: 94% are very or somewhat likely to set time limits on tech use, and 89% to consult ratings for appropriate film, TV, and videogame use.
The bottom line from BlogHer and Parenting was that “moms worry, but they’re not afraid.” They “are not shy about setting limits or keeping watch.” We worry because we always have worried about our kids and we always will. But here’s why we’re less and less afraid, I think, based on the survey’s findings: “Parents use technology themselves,” to talk about their lives, to keep their families connected 24/7, to bridge generational gaps, to get insights into their kids’ thoughts and activities. This is the writing on the wall, I think – why the worst online-safety fears are part of a transitional time when policymakers and news people view technology and youth through their own mass-media, analog technology lenses. Parental worries and youth risk will always be part of the landscape, but thankfully fear of the unknown is slowly getting replaced by experience and solid research. Here’s coverage from the New York Times’s “Motherlode” blog and GetParentalControls.org.