Pew Survey: Parents Staying On Top of Teens’ Online Activities

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Teenagers use various digital technologies in this day and age, and parents appear to be doing a decent job keeping up with them.

The benefits of digital connection range from the ability to contact a child more readily and easily than ever before to improving kid’s ability to access educational information at the touch of a keyboard, says Monica Anderson for Pew Research Center. But along with the benefits of technology come concerns about who teens are interacting with online and what personal information they are sharing on the Internet. Lawmakers and advocates are also mindful of online safety, cyberbullying, and privacy matters.

The Pew Research Center conducted a survey of parents of 13- to 17-year-old children, finding that parents are using an array of actions to monitor their teenagers online and to support their kids’ appropriate and responsible technological usage.

Digital technology has become such an ubiquitous part of teens’ lives that many parents now use a new way to enforce family expectations, known as “digitally grounding.” Up to 65% of parents have nixed a teen’s cell phone usage or online privileges as a punishment.

Taking away digital devices is not always used as a punishment. Sometimes parents make rules about how much time and when kids can use their tablets, cell phones, or computers. About 55% of parents say they set guidelines for their children’s online time.

Most parents use a hands-on approach when it comes to monitoring their kids’ digital use. According to the survey: 61% have checked which websites their teens have visited; 60% have checked their social media profiles; 56% have friended or followed their child on Facebook or Twitter; 48% have looked at their teen’s call records or text messages.

Also, 48% said they knew their teen’s password to their email account, 43% admitted to knowing their child’s cell phone password, and 35% knew the password to at least one of their kid’s social media account.

All this tech-savvy activity might lead one to surmise that many parents would be using technology-based tools to monitor, block, or track their child. But only 39% use parental controls to monitor their child’s online activities, 16% use parental controls to restrict cell phone use, and 16% use monitoring tools to track their child’s location.

As for what is acceptable online behavior, 94% said they have talked with their children about this, with 40% saying they do so on a frequent basis. 95% have discussed what type of content is appropriate, with 39% saying they had this discussion frequently.

Ninety-five percent have talked with their kids about acceptable TV, music, books, magazines, and other media, with 36% doing so frequently. Ninety-two percent said they had spoken with their teen about behaviors toward others online, with 36% saying they talked about it often.

The Pew survey, “Parents, Teens and Digital Monitoring,” questioned approximately 1,000 parent-teen pairs and found that most parents do not trust their teenagers to be responsible while online, says Rachel Pick for Motherboard.

The fact that so much information about the serious issues surrounding children’s online behavior has been dispersed (cyber bullying, privacy issues, sexting, Internet addiction) made the survey results surprisingly moderate, writes KJ Dell’ Antonia of The New York Times.

Marion K. Underwood, dean of graduate studies in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences at the University of Texas at Dallas and a co-author of the report “Being Thirteen: Social Media and the Hidden World of Young Adolescents’ Peer Culture,” said the best approach is to be an active part of teenagers online lives and then to gradually give more and more freedom as the teens mature.

“Children who felt like their parents were monitoring their activity online were noticeably less distressed by online conflict,” Dr. Underwood said.