Kids turning to cellphone for Internet; it's tough on parent oversight
The number of teens and tweens accessing the Internet via cellphone is growing, a new survey says, posing bigger problems for parents who like to keep tabs on their kid's Internet activities.
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At the Conkey household in suburban Chicago, brothers Donald and Harry know their parents track the music they buy and might look at their Web surfing history when borrowing their sons' laptops. Mom Brooke Conkey acknowledges that she also may glance at the occasional text.Skip to next paragraph
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"Oh yeah, she'll look over our shoulders and she'll want to know who we're talking to — and that's to be expected," says Harry Conkey, a high school senior. "It's a parent. It's natural to want to know who your kids are talking to."
His parents don't use filters of any kind because, while there's been the occasional "mistake" when downloading or surfing on their phones or laptops, Mom and Dad think that's just part of learning and growing up. That may change, however, with their 6-year-old son Peter.
"I think that things will get trickier as time goes on," Brooke Conkey says. "And I think things will be easier to get to — the naughty things. So I think I probably would be more proactive than I was with the older boys."
It's a balance, she says, because she and other parents also realize that smartphones and other mobile devices are only likely to become an even more integral part of life and learning. At least at the college level, some schools are seeing the benefit of mobile surfing, and encouraging it, too.
Last fall, Stephen Groening, a film and media studies professor at George Mason University in Virginia, taught a class that examined "cell phone cultures." Students did much of the class work using phones — creating video essays, taking pictures, texting, and tweeting.
"I've had students tell me that they bring their cell phones in the shower with them. They sleep with them," Groening says, noting that he never knew a student attached to a laptop in that way
In New Jersey, Seton Hall University gives incoming freshman a free smartphone for the first semester. Among other things, they use them to help them navigate campus, connect with other students and follow campus news that streams on the SHUmobile app.
Kyle Packnick, a freshman at Seton Hall, liked having one of the phones and said they're particularly helpful for students who don't come to school with a smartphone.
But he also thinks people his age could do a better job setting their own limits with technology — and is grateful that his parents didn't even allow him to text on his cell phone when he was in high school. He was only allowed to make phone calls.
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"At the time, I definitely wasn't happy about it," the 19-year-old says. But now he feels he's less dependent on his phone than his peers.
Pew's findings are based on a nationally representative phone survey of 802 young people, ages 12 to 17, and their parents. The report, a joint project with the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, was conducted between July and September last year. The margin of error was plus-or-minus 4.5 percentage points.