Parents struggle to monitor kids' Internet use with tech - study

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Computers and smartphones may be a ubiquitous part of teenagers’ lives, but parents don’t typically turn to those same technology tools to track their kids’ Internet activity, according to a new national study.

Parents recognize that paying attention to their children’s behavior in cyberspace is an important part of parenting. A new study by Pew Research Center found, however, that most parents prefer to personally observe and discuss their children’s behavior, rather than rely on software tools like Net Nanny.

While the study did not examine the challenges schools face in monitoring teenagers’ online and social media behavior, it provides a fresh view of how parents are addressing the added presence of digital technology at home.

The study found, for instance, that 61 percent of parents check which websites their kids browse, and 60 percent checked their children’s social profiles, but only 39 percent report using parental controls for “blocking, filtering or monitoring” their children’s online activities.

The data show that communication with teens is better than using more technical means like parental controls, said Monica Anderson, a research analyst of Pew Research Center and the author of the report, so “conversations tend to act as ‘first line of defense.’”

That approach also occurs with teenagers’ mobile devices. Almost half of parents check their teen’s call records or messages, but only 16 percent use parental controls and location tracking tools.

Most parents are teaching their kids to behave themselves online. Nearly all parents surveyed said they discuss with their children what’s appropriate to view or share.

“Parents are concerned about what their teens do online, and they’re taking steps to discuss, monitor and regulate their teen’s digital use,” Anderson said in an interview with EdScoop.

Parents are continuing to adapt to the reality that 92 percent of teens report going online everyday, and 73 percent teens report having smart phones, up from 37 percent in 2011, according to Pew Research.

At the same time, parenting styles can differ. “Some parents are more proactive and overseeing what their teens do online, and others utilize the lighter touch,” Anderson said.

Parents have also recognized that their children’s digital devices can be a source of leverage. “Digital grounding” is used as a form of discipline by 65 percent of parents, who cut off their children’s access to the Internet or cellphones as a punishment.

The report found that some demographic factors influence how much parents are concerned about their kids’ online behaviors. Parents of younger teens reviewed the web browsing history of their children more closely than parents of older teens. They are also more likely to apply digital tools to monitor online activities, which is 12 percent higher than parents of older teens.

Parents of the families with higher income talk less frequently with their children about both online and offline life than parents in lower income groups. Also, mothers tend to discuss online behaviors with their children more frequently than fathers, the study found.

The report, based on surveys conducted in the fall of 2014 and the spring of 2015, is the fourth in a series studies by Pew Research Center concerning teenagers’ lives in the digital era since, Anderson said. The previous three research reports dealt with teens, social media and technology, how digital tools change teens’ friendships and their romantic relationships.

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