Pew Internet Research: The State of Digital Parenting Part I

Last week Pew Internet Research published their latest survey, this one titled Parents, Teens and Digital Monitoring. That’s a hot topic for us and we hope a hot topic for parents. Most teens have internet access and many are online constantly. In our experience, there’s a wide range of what parents do when it comes to monitoring teens’ (and pre teens’) internet activity. Some of what they do is effective and some of it appears to be designed to make the parents feel better about what may be going on and what they’re not doing – more on that below.

The Pew survey took the temperature of 1,060 parents of kids aged 13-17 over the last couple of years. According to the Pew report, here’s what parents say they are doing:teen-cyberbullying

  • 61% of parents report that they check which sites their teens visit
  • 56% follow their teen on Facebook or some other social network
  • 60% have looked at their teen’s social media account(s)
  • 48% have monitored text messages or phone records

As you can see, it appears that most parents are doing something. Are they finding anything that is a cause for concern? Apparently they are, as 65% indicate that they have taken away phones or internet access as a punishment, and 55% report that they put limits on how much time teens spend online.

There’s a lot more to cover in the survey, and we’ll get into that in follow up posts. Today, I wanted to dig into the results above, and use as an example a conversation that I had with an old friend last week. That friend is the parent of two teens, and we were talking about his 16-year old daughter, a great student and competitive athlete who he said just got a new MacBook. The summary of our conversation:

Me: Do you keep track of what your daughter is doing online?

Him: Well, we kind of pay attention to it. We’re friends with her on Facebook.

Me: Do you know what she does online other than Facebook?

Him: I don’t think she’s all that active. Maybe she uses Snapchat, but that’s private right?

Me, Yeah, most parents of teens don’t really know what their kids are doing online.

Him: She’s a good kid – I’m sure whatever it is isn’t a problem.

We continued the conversation and it turns out that day-to-day, he has no real clue what his daughter is doing online.

This friend is a good parent and I’m pretty sure that his daughter is a good kid. Whether everything she posts online, and everyone she interacts with are safe and appropriate is another matter. If this friend had been surveyed by Pew, he probably would have been counted as one of the parents who are on top of what his teen is doing online.

Understand that I’m not finding fault with the parenting practices of my friend. In a perfect world, we would raise our kids to be good people in the real world and that behavior would be emulated perfectly online. The problem is that it’s not that simple.

Online conversations lack depth, and something that is said in jest or an off hand comment can be taken as something much worse. Perceived anonymity can lead people to do and post things that they would never do if under the microscope of putting their reputation at risk. That risk, specifically, is that someone else – a college admissions officer or future employer – could be looking at your online posts to make a snap judgment about your character.

In the case of teens who are very active online, keeping on top of everything that is happening can be a full time job. To protect the best interests of teens, parents need help in seeing what is happening online. For a limited time the ThirdParent audit is FREE (normally $49). Sign up now and you can cancel at any time. Sign up today!



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