Social media is parents' greatest online fear, research says

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Parents are more concerned about their children’s use of social media services than any other online activity, according to a new survey by a US-based digital safety group.

The research conducted for the non-profit Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) found that social media was the only online activity and technology for which more parents believed the harms outweighed the benefits or were equally balanced.

Some 43% of parents thought the negative aspects of their child having a social media account outweighed the benefits, while 31% thought the risks and benefits were about equal. Only 26% thought the benefits were worth the potential risks.

Of those parents who said their child did not have a social media account, the proportion who felt the risks outweighed the benefits hit 63%. For those whose children were on sites such as Facebook, the comparable figure was just 26%.

Among the 53% of parents who said their child had a social networking account, more than three quarters (78%) have logged on to their child’s account to check their posts.

Three quarters of parents are concerned about inappropriate content

Jen Hanley, legal and policy director of FOSI, said parents were concerned that their children might “overshare” online by posting personal information that could then not be withdrawn. It also reflected their difficulty in keeping up with the latest app, she added: “Many parents say that now they are on Facebook, their kids are not.”

It was the first time that FOSI has specifically examined parental attitudes to their children’s use of technology and online activities.

The report stated: “While many parents monitor their children’s online activity and are confident in their ability to do so, the degree to which parents actively oversee their children’s online activities and their confidence in their ability to do so decreases the older their child is.”

Referring to children’s use of technology such as smartphones, it said: “While a slight majority thinks the potential benefits outweigh the potential harms, many are ambivalent – regardless of the age of their child.”

Just over three quarters (76%) were either very concerned or somewhat concerned about the prospect of their child seeing inappropriate or harmful content online, or companies tracking their child’s online activity for marketing purposes.

The prospect of their child communicating with a stranger online was very or somewhat concerning for 69%.

More than 70% of parents have checked their children’s texts

For those whose children have a smartphone or mobile device, 71% of parents said they had checked sent and received text messages, and 45% had set limits on the number of messages that could be sent.

According to the report, just over half (53%) of parents say they have used parental controls to prevent their child from accessing to certain types of online content and nearly as many (47%) have suspended in-app purchases.

Hanley said that FOSI was encouraging more people to use tools such as parental controls to give them more peace of mind about their children’s online activities.

Hart Research Associates carried out the study for FOSI. Three focus groups were conducted: one with parents who had children age six to nine; another of parents of 10 to 13-year-olds; and a further group for parents of teenagers between 14 and 17.

An online survey of 584 US parents of children aged 6 to 17 who use the net was also conducted.

FOSI offers tips for good digital parenting here.
Is the internet really a dangerous, lawless jungle for children?

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Chris Johnston, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 12th November 2014 07.00 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010