Parent engagement, not policing, best policy for Internet use

Parent engagement, not harsh policing may be the best policy for Internet use, according to a recent study of the habits and techniques of thousands of teens and their families in over two dozen countries.

David Spencer/The State Journal-Register/AP
Springfield High School junior Timothy Miller, 17, sits for a portrait in his family's computer room Springfield, Ill., on April 27, 2012. Miller is creating a website called Capital City Cuisine, seen on the monitor at left. Recent surveys say that parent engagement, not policing, may be the most effective Internet use policy.

The guidance has never been clearer, nor have the reasons for it.

Based on surveys of 25,142 families of 9-to-16-year-olds in 25 countries, researchers came to the conclusion that parents’ active engagement with their kids’ Internet activities works better than restricting them. They found that, while both imposing restrictions (e.g., installing a filter, banning certain Web sites, or restricting activities like photo-sharing or texting) and actively engaging reduced “risks of harm,” the more restrictive approach also reduced children’s opportunities online.

“For parents, talking to their child about the internet, encouraging them to explore alone but being nearby in case they are needed and talking to them about what they do online are all ways in which they can reduce online risks without reducing their child’s opportunities,” said EU Kids Online research director Sonia Livingstone in a press release.

Ms. Livingstone also said that the surveys found a generally “positive picture in which children welcome parental interest and activities, and parents express confidence in their children’s abilities.”

In their analysis – “How can parents support children’s Internet safety?” – the researchers said that “Cynicism that what parents do is not valued, or that children will always evade parental guidance, is ungrounded.”

More than two-thirds of the young people surveyed said their parents’ guidance is helpful – “27 percent ‘very’, 43 percent ‘a bit’,” and the 13-to-16-year-olds as much as the younger children.

This resonates closely with what the Pew Internet Project found in its research last year (see “Parents Matter” in my post about it). In fact, the EU Kids Online researchers even heard a small percentage of children say they wish their parents were more involved in their online experiences (5 percent “a lot” more and 10 percent “a little” more).

Interestingly, two-thirds of the young respondents also said their parents “know a lot (32 percent) or quite a lot (36 percent) about what they do online.” Of course there were differences in digital parenting styles from country to country.

Report co-author Andrea Duerager said that, “in Turkey and Austria, for example, parents favor a restrictive approach while in Nordic countries they do more active mediation.”

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best family and parenting bloggers out there. Our contributing and guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor, and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. Anne Collier blogs at NetFamilyNews.

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