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News Flash: Parenting is Happening!

Progress Snapshot
Release 6.10, June 2010

by Adam Thierer*

View as PDF

Note to Washington regulators and would-be censors: Don't look now but parenting is happening! Yes, it really is true: Parents are parenting. That's the result of this new survey by Yahoo & Ipsos OTX. Please pardon my snarkyiness, but I've been going at it for years with mobs of people here in DC who think that all parents are asleep at the wheel and kids are heading straight for the moral abyss. It's a bunch of bunk, as I've pointed out many times before. This new Yahoo!/Ipsos survey illustrates that, once again, parents are monitoring what their kids are up to online and taking an active role in mentoring them about web use:

  • 78% of parents are concerned about their children's online safety.
  • 70% of parents talk to their children about online safety at least 2-3 times a year; 45% talk to their children at least once a month.
  • 74% of parents are connected to their children's profiles on social networking sites.
  • 71% of parents have taken at least one action to manage their children's use of the Internet or cell phones such as: Checking to see where children are searching online; setting time limits for children's use of computers or cell phones; setting parental controls on video sites; using filters to limit where children go on the Web.

These results are consistent with what I have found and described in my ongoing PFF special report, Parental Controls & Online Child Protection: A Survey of Tools and Methods. Obviously, many parents utilize the growing diversity of parental control technologies that are at their disposal to better control/monitor their children's online activities/interactions. But what's really impressive (and far more important) is that so many surveys and studies continue to show that the vast majority of parents utilize a variety of household "media consumption rules" as a substitute for, or compliment to, parental control technologies. In fact, in many ways, these household efforts represent the most important steps that most parents can take in dealing with potentially objectionable content or teaching their children how to be sensible, savvy media consumers.

In my work, I have divided these household media rules into four categories: (1) "where" rules (assigning a place for media consumption); (2) "when and how much" rules (creating a media allowance); (3) "under what conditions" rules (carrot-and-stick incentives); and, (4) "what" rules (specifying the programming kids can and cannot watch). Again, many households reject technical blocking tools in favor of these household media rules.

For example, the U.S. Census Bureau's "A Child's Day" reports, conducted from 1994 to 2006, illustrate how the use of household media rules appears to be growing. Parents are crafting more TV rules for their kids today than they were in the past. The press release for the 2004 report reveals that, "Parents are taking a more active role in the lives of their children than they did 10 years ago." The 2006 study found that 72.4 percent of parents of children age 6 to 11 imposed family television rules on which programs, how early or late, and how many hours children were allowed to watch.

Other surveys and studies have confirmed this. A 2003 Kaiser Family Foundation survey found that "Almost all parents say they have some type of rules about their children's use of media." More recent Kaiser surveys have bolstered that finding. For example, a 2006 Kaiser survey of families with infants and preschoolers revealed that 85% of those parents who let their children watch TV at that age have rules about what their child can and cannot watch. Of those parents, 63% say they always enforce those rules. About the same percentage of parents said they had similar rules for video game and computer usage. Likewise, a June 2007 Kaiser poll revealed that:

  • 65% of parents say they closely monitor their children's media use;
  • 73% of parents say they know a lot about what their kids are doing online;
  • 87% of parents check their children's instant messaging "buddy lists;"
  • 82% of parents review their children's social networking sites; and,
  • 76% of parents look to see what websites their children have visited.

Finally, a 2007 poll commissioned by Common Sense Media and Cable in the Classroom revealed that 85% of parents and legal guardians of children ages 6 to 18 who go online say they have talked to their child in the past year about how to be safe and smart online. I cite many additional numbers like these in my Parental Controls & Online Child Protection report.

Incidentally, one of the most interesting findings of the Yahoo! survey is that, "Dads are doing their part, and then some." "Today's fathers spend more time with their children than three decades ago and take on more household responsibilities," the survey notes. Specifically:

  • 71% of dads (compared to 63% of moms) say they are taking at least one action to help manage their children's online behavior including having conversations about respecting the privacy of others and checking their children's privacy settings. More dads than moms have had a conversation with their children about their digital reputations and how to promote a positive online reputation.
  • Fathers more often check to see what personal information can be easily found about their children by searching for their names online. 53% of dads surveyed told us they plug their children's names into a search engine at least 2—3 times per year (compared to 38% of moms) — 33% of dads told us they do this search at least once a month.
  • Dads spend slightly more time talking to their children about online safety. 47% of dads have the conversation at least once a month or more; 42% of moms have the conversation at least once a month or more.
  • According to the survey, more dads than moms use filters to limit where their kids go online, and more dads monitor the time children send text messages and how many text messages they send.

As the father of two elementary school kids, I can only say: Dads rule!

While some might protest that more can and should be done by parents—which is always going to be the case about everything—I would hope those critics wouldn't lose sight of how much is already being done by parents to monitor and mentor their children's online actions and interactions.

Let's give parents some credit for once!

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* Adam Thierer is President of The Progress & Freedom Foundation. The views expressed in this report are his own, and are not necessarily the views of the PFF board, fellows or staff.




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