Parents shaky about kids' safety online
By Stefanie Olsen
Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Published: August 10, 2006 9:00 AM PDT
The majority of parents say they've taken some action to ensure their child's safety online, but at least some will admit they're clueless about how to protect kids.
According to a new study from research firm Harris Interactive, roughly a third of parents said they don't feel confident about teaching kids how to use the Internet safely and responsibly. Nevertheless, as many as 94 percent of parents have turned to Web content filters, monitoring software or advice from an adult friend to help shield their kids from harm on the Net.
"The world, technology and the Web are changing very fast, and adults in general are struggling to keep up," said Douglas Levin, senior director of education policy for Cable in the Classroom, a 22-year-old national education foundation sponsored by the cable industry.
Cable in the Classroom commissioned the Internet-safety poll from Harris in July. The poll, released this week at a National PTA meeting in New York City, seeks to address parents' mounting concern over threats to kids' privacy on the Web and in social networks like MySpace.
Kids are in the spotlight because they're spending more and more time online--at home, in schools and at the homes of friends. According to CIC, high school kids spend as much as 5.1 hours a day online when they're out of school, middle school children spend 4.9 hours daily and elementary school children spend 3.8 hours a day. Experts say kids can be particularly vulnerable to predators when divulging personal information on blogs, social networks or to marketers.
The world, technology and the Web are changing very fast, and adults in general are struggling to keep up.
Cable in the Classroom
So who should be responsible to protect children online, given that kids venture online at home, school, the library, at friends' or even grandma's house? The poll asked 374 parents of kids age 8 to 18, and 90 percent of them said parents should bear most of the responsibility.
Seven out of 10 parents said schools should help carry the burden of educating and shielding kids, and 50 percent of respondents wished the government and law enforcement to get involved. Levin said the results showed a need for coordinated efforts among parents, teachers, family and friends.
Despite a need to shoulder the responsibility, teachers seem bereft of the materials and time needed to teach kids about online media literacy. According to Levin, 60 percent of teachers said that information and media literacy skills aren't taught enough in schools. And 78 percent of teachers said that they've had to learn about media literacy skills on their own in order to educate kids.
How have parents acted on their concerns? Many turn to technology, like monitoring tools.
According to the survey, 82 percent of parents monitor their kids' online activity, 75 percent limit Internet use to a family room or open space, 74 percent have set time limitations and 55 percent have installed content filtering or blocking software. Eighty-eight percent of parents said they've talked to their kids about being safe online. And half of parents surveyed said they've sought advice from other parents or school teachers.
The goal of the survey was to use the information to educate parents.
"Our mission before was to educate parents about cable TV. Now the conversation has changed to how their kids can set up broadcast stations on the Web from their bedroom," said Levin. "The good news from our perspectives is that the strategies parents should employ are the same."
Those strategies include setting rules about what kids are allowed to do online, Levin said. Next, use parental control technology available from ISPs or search engines. And third, don't panic. Kids will eventually run into something online that they shouldn't. Talking to children about it is the best approach, Levin said.
Harris' results were extrapolated from a telephone survey of 374 parents; its margin of error is plus or minus 5 percent and is weighted to the national average.
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