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Parents on Kids' Net use: Study

We're a little more ambivalent about our children's Net use than we used to be - but that doesn't mean more of us think the Internet is bad for them
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We're a little more ambivalent about our children's Net use than we used to be - but that doesn't mean more of us think the Internet is bad for them, according to a just-released study on this by the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

"While a majority of [US] parents with online teens [12-17] still believe the Internet is a beneficial factor in their children's lives, there has been a decrease since 2004" in the number of parents who believe so (67% then vs. 59% now), study author Alexandra Rankin Macgill reports. She adds, though, that there has not been a "corresponding increase" during the same period in the percentage of parents who see online activity as a bad thing (7% now vs. 5% then). "Instead, more parents are neutral about whether their children have been positively affected by the Internet, saying the Internet has not had an effect on their child one way or another [30% now vs. 25% then]." ["Now" should be qualified a bit, because the survey was conducted about a year ago.]

As for how we regulate our kids' Internet use, interestingly, as with videogames and TV, we tend to do so in terms of the content of the medium more than time spent on it - 68% have rules about what sites their kids can use, compared to 77% concerning TV shows they can watch and 67% concerning videogames they can play. So we're pretty engaged in their Net use - "despite the stereotype of the clueless parent," Pew/Internet found. Some 65% of parents say they've checked where their kids have been after they've been online, and "74% can correctly identify" whether their children have created a social-networking profile others can see.

There's a fairly predictable difference between teens' favorable view of technology and that of parents, though the percentage of parents with a positive view is high: 71% of parents say the Internet and cellphones, iPods and digital cameras make their lives easier, compared to 89% of teens. I noted with interest that 63% of US 12-to-17-year-olds now have cellphones, compared to 89% of parents. For iPods and other music players, it's the inverse: 51% of teens have them, compared to 29% of parents.

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Parental concerns are key

eMarketer points out how important parents' views of social networking are to this social-Web business. It cites the research of Parks Associates as showing that "virtual world advertising in the United States will increase tenfold to $150 million by 2012 from the 2006 level. That spending could be cut, however, if parents deny permission for teens to visit virtual worlds. And parental approval is not a given, since some aspects of virtual worlds are still discomfiting for parents." What Mattel's does is require girls to pick a username, password, and age range ("the choices are 5 or under, 6-7, 8-9, 10-12, 13-15 and 16+"). The also have to provide a parent's email address, "which is used to send an automated permission request. Once the parent approves, a child can access the site." Of course kids can find workarounds: It's impossible to verify that the email address really is the child's parent's, and the
message "simply asks the recipient to affirm 'that you are the parent of the child')." And proof of the child's age can't be required because children don't have ID cards or personal information in any national database against which sites could check (a scary thought - see this on child age verification). [eMarketer this fall issued a very expensive lengthy report on kids' virtual worlds.]

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