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Study: Parents sweat online predators, social sites

Even though parents say they are uncomfortable with their children online, they still say it's a valuable source of information, according to a new study.

Two-thirds of parents say that they are uncomfortable with their children participating in online communities, and roughly half of them say that online predators are a threat, according to a new study from the Center for the Digital Future at the USC Annenberg School for Communication. The group has conducted an annual review of the effect of Web technology on America since 2000 by interviewing the same 2,000-plus people around the country. But this was the first year it asked about perceptions of predators and social sites.

Jeffrey Cole, director of the center, said that despite those concerns, parents' opinions about the Web are generally positive. "After seven years of tracking the impact of the Internet, we are also seeing evolving trends, which show that adults view some aspects of going online by children to be as troubling as their use of other media--or even potentially dangerous."

The upside for most parents--80 percent--is that they consider the Internet a valuable source of information and more important than television, radio, newspapers, and books, according to the study. That figure is up from 66 percent in 2006.

Other findings include: a quarter of parents said their kids spend too much time online, a percentage that's risen for three years in a row. And 13 percent of parents said their children are spending less time with friends as a result of the Internet, another figure that grew for the third consecutive year.

Despite parents' concern about their kids' use of social sites, many adults age 17 and older report being avid members of community sites. About 54 percent of those surveyed said they log into their community at least once a day, and 71 percent said that their social membership was "extremely important."