Though being a parent has never been easy, the Internet hasn’t made the job any easier. Just how seriously are parents taking their role of monitoring their children’s online behavior?
A new study from the Digital Future Project finds a divide in parental approaches to Internet supervision. Seventy percent of parents say they monitor their child’s online activity while on Facebook and other social media sites, and 46 percent have password access to their children’s accounts. In contrast, 30 percent of parents don’t chaperone online interactions because they trust their kids, don’t want to show a lack of trust, don’t know how to use social media sites or don’t have time to.
“The reason we are seeing such a profound struggle is because parents fall in multiple generations,” says pediatrician and parenting expert Gwenn Schurgin O’Keeffe, CEO of PediatricsNow.com, a parenting website. “You’re dealing with so many different types of people and parenting styles.”
The findings come from the Digital Future Project, a long-term study of views and behavior of Internet users, conducted by the USC Annenberg Center for the Digital Future and led by director Jeffrey Cole.
In an attempt to combat inappropriate site surfing, some parents are downloading programs such as Spectorsoft, which blocks, records and alerts parents by monitoring Internet use. However, O’Keeffe advises against using such software unless it’s a unique situation.
“You do things because you love your children and you want to protect them,” she says. “But kids aren’t these evil creatures. You have to be thoughtful about why you’re using these programs. Make sure there is more to your reasoning than not trusting the online world.”
Alongside the parental effort to keep up with the constant current of Web use and development, the government’s latest update to the Child Online Privacy Protection Act will take effect July 1, including several new consent methods for parents and increased protection for minors’ private information.
In comparison with the European Union, however, the U.S. is behind the learning curve, Cole says. Europe has not only given people “the right to be forgotten” on social media sites, allowing them to wipe their cyber record clean, but has also limited corporate access to personal information and proposed a collaboration with websites and government officials to ensure Internet safety and quality for youngsters.
“I like the idea,” Cole says. “Kids and teenagers are just experimenting. Until they hurt other people, they should be free to be a kid and learn about life.”
Despite these efforts, government regulations are having a tough time keeping up as new sites pop up. Hence, it’s up to Mom and Dad to take the lead online.
“In the end, parents still have to step up and recognize they need to be involved in their kids’ lives and find that happy medium,” O’Keeffe says. “We have to stop being so paranoid and give (kids) the benefit of the doubt.”
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