Survey finds parents mostly OK with kids’ use of tech

A survey released today by the Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI), found that “93% of parents feel that their child is at least somewhat safe when he or she is online,” while only 37% say their child is “very safe.”

The survey found some ambivalence when it comes to using smartphone apps and playing online games where 38% felt that the benefits outweigh harms.

The study, Parenting in the Digital Age, which was conducted for FOSI by Hart Research, is based on an October, 2014 national survey of 584 parents of children age six to 17 who access the Internet.

Concern over social media

When it comes to social media, only 26% feel that the benefits of their child having a social media account outweighs harms, while 43% say “harms outweigh benefits”and 31% say that they’re about equal.

I find this number interesting considering the number of children who have Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts. Maybe things have changed since danah boyd and other researchers released a 2011 study that found that of the estimated 7.5 million kids under 13 on Facebook (according to Consumer Reports), 95% of the parents whose 10-year-old was on Facebook knew about it and 78% actually helped the kid sign-up. Of course, Facebook use by kids may be diminishing, but there are plenty of social media apps and services, including Instagram (which is owned by Facebook), Snapchat, Tumblr and Yik-Yak that are popular among teens as well as pre-teens who, according to most services’ rules, are not supposed to be using them.
Parents feel they have control

Whether it’s true or not, parents do feel that they have some control over their kids’ use of tech. Just under two-thirds (64%) said that they are confident in their ability to keep track of their child’s technology use, but for parents of teens, the number drops to 58%. Nearly three quarters (73%) of parents with younger children feel OK about their ability to keep track of what their kids are doing with technology.

Nearly all (95%) of parents say they “monitor” their child’s use of technology at least “somewhat closely,” while 55% say they monitor it very closely. That number drops to 41% for parents of teens, while 68% of parents of kids between 6 and 9 say they monitor tech use very closely. Of course “monitor” is a very broad term that can range from tight controls to an occasional check-in. A slim majority (53%) of parents say they have used parental controls such as online filters while 47% report using controls to turn off in-app purchases. The use of the term “have,” though is also a bit vague. It’s not clear from the survey whether these numbers represent ongoing monitoring or, perhaps, the use of a filter sometime in the past.

In an open-ended part of the survey, parents were asked to express their concerns and a significant percentage (28%) worried about “stalkers, child molesters, predators, bad people lurking online” or “contact with strangers.” Inappropriate content was also high on the list of concerns with 23% expressing worry about the child accessing content that isn’t age appropriate. Nearly 1 in 10 (9%) expressed concerns about tech keeping their kids away from exercise while 8% mentioned cyberbullying.

Perception vs. reality

The concern over stranger danger is interesting given that the actual risk (as opposed to perceived) of a child being harm by a stranger they meet online is very low. I also found it interesting that only 8% of parents expressed concerns about cyberbullying given the amount of attention it has received, though based on the actual (vs. perceived) occurrences of cyberbullying, the number is about right.

With any survey on risks and harms it’s always important to remember that people don’t necessarily perceive risk accurately. It’s not uncommon, for example, for surveys to find concern over a growth in crimes during a period when crime rates are dropping or concern over economic decline during periods when the economy is actually growing.

So, the takeaway here is to understand parental concerns, but also understand actual risks as measured by data from organizations like the Crimes Against Children Research Department, the Centers for Disease Control, the Justice Department and others who keep up-to-date records on risks and harms.

On the positive side, it’s great to see that parents are in-touch with their kids’ use of technology and, for the most part, agree with the characters played by Annette Bening and Julianne Moore in the movie “The Kids Are All Right.”

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Disclosure: Larry Magid is co-director of, a non-profit Internet safety organization that receives financial support from Facebook and other social media companies.