‘Overparenting backlash’ & predator fears

It’s an interesting juxtoposition, Time magazine’s article about a helicopter-parenting backlash and a study showing that nearly two-thirds of US parents are concerned about online predators (see USNews.com). Which is bigger? I suspect predator fears are a bigger phenomenon, unfortunately – despite research at the Crimes Against Children Research Center “finding no evidence online predators were stalking or abducting victims based on information posted on social networking sites (see USATODAY’s coverage and mine). The Center’s director, Dr. David Finkelhor, also told me in an email around that time that the number of predation incidents was too low to show up in two separate national studies of US youth – “at 1 in 500 or 1 in 1000 or below we can’t estimate” the risk level of predation, he added. Certainly even one case is too many, but concerns need to reflect the facts not the hype and misinformation parents have been subjected to since the advent of online social networking.

But getting back to the study of parents’ concerns and engagement, it was a national survey by the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital at the University of Michigan, and key findings include:

* 81% of parents say their kids 9-17 use the Net “on their own,” yet…
* 64% of parents are either “very concerned” or “somewhat concerned” about online predators (half very concerned).
* 66% of 13-to-17-year-olds have their own social network profiles, and 19% of kids 9-12 do (even though MySpace and Facebook require users to be 13 to set up accounts).
* Despite the fact that the 2008 Berkman Center task force report stated that online harassment and bullying are the most common risk youth face online, bullying was No. 5 on the list of parents’ online-safety concerns in the Mott study, after predators, privacy, porn, and online games, respectively.
* The Mott study also broke down parental concerns by gender of children and family ethnicity, finding that “black parents report greater concern for all areas of Internet safety than do white or Hispanic parents.”
* Internet safety ranked as the 5th biggest health problem for children in the Mott Hospital’s “‘National Poll on Children’s Health’ annual list of the Top 10 biggest health problems for children” this year, “with 31% of adults rating Internet safety as a big problem,” Mott reports.

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