WEDNESDAY, Oct. 30 (HealthDay News) -- Parental perceptions can
be way off when it comes to what their kids are exposed to while
surfing the Internet, according to a new study that puts an e-spin
on the enduring generation gap.
The survey of 456 parent-child pairs revealed that although
nearly one-third of the 10- to 16-year-olds polled said they had
been bullied online, just 10 percent of parents were aware of
Parents also underestimated how often their child was exposed to
online pornography, the survey found.
Such parent-child disconnects highlight the need for greater
parental involvement in their child's cyber world, the researchers
"As a parent, I've seen it firsthand," said study author Sahara Byrne, an associate professor of communication at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. "Kids can't easily get away from the drama of being a teenager with constant access to their social network. I also get how hard it can be to talk to them about potential problems. They don't want to talk to you about stuff that goes on online, either because everything is fine at that moment or because they think we don't understand it. And then one day, it's not fine."
Parents need to ask "how they're doing online from the moment
they can access it, and keep asking even if they don't want to
share or don't have anything to share," Byrne added.
Another expert agreed that parents need to take responsibility
for their children's online behaviors. But he added that the
challenges aren't new.
"It seems to me that the rates of parental ignorance about bullying and porn use may not be all that different from pre-Internet times," said Michael Gilbert, a senior fellow at the USC Annenberg Center for the Digital Future at the University of Southern California. "Children have been bullied as long as schools have been around and kids getting hold of pornography is as old as, well, pornography. What's changed is the media -- and the ease with which children are able to access them. So, I'm not all that surprised by these numbers."
"As to parental monitoring," Gilbert added, "there are filters, placing devices in open areas, imposing possible time and content restrictions. But, in the end, parental responsibility extends to this chore, too. Openly talking with children, inviting them to peruse the web with you, are excellent ways to deal with these issues. The medium is different and technology surely makes the task harder but, in the end, it comes down to parental involvement and support."
Among the survey findings:
The vast majority of parents surveyed were mothers, and most
were white. All were asked their thoughts on the online behavior of
just one child.
Among the subjects broached to parent and child: the degree of
the child's exposure to or participation in cyber-bullying;
exposure to the unsolicited (and perhaps sexual and/or "weird")
advances of a stranger online; and accidental or intentional
exposure to sexual content online.
Parents were also asked to indicate their parenting style,
generally ranging from lax to strict. As well, they were asked to
indicate whether they viewed their child as smarter than average
when surfing the web, how often they went online in a private place
(like their bedroom), and how easy or difficult they felt it was to
discuss online behavior with their child.
Children, for their part, were asked to indicate how often they
typically went online and when.
Parents who engage in a more lax (or "permissive") parenting
style were somewhat more likely to underestimate how much their
child was accidently exposed to sexual content. In general,
however, parenting style wasn't a strong indicator of parents
underestimating risky online situations. The survey also found that
parents more accurately predicted the amount of exposure their
child had to sexual content online the more their child accessed
the Internet in a private space.
Keeping the computer in public view in the home is generally
recommended, but overall, the authors concluded that parents need
to up their game when it comes to communicating with their children
about exactly what's transpiring when they go online.
"I find that it helps to share stories in the news about the consequences of being cruel online or through mobile media," Byrne said. "There is a new story every week. We talk about it."
No child is above risks, or too smart for the risks, Byrne
added. "And our study suggests that if you think your child is
smarter than others when online, you might be among those who are
unaware of what's going on," she said.
The survey findings were published online recently in the
Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication.
For more on social networking and children, visit the
American Academy of Pediatrics.
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