Is your kid ADDICTED to web porn? Twitter? Hint: Don't blame the internet

New study: What parents worry about – and what they definitely SHOULDN'T worry about online

Parents' biggest concern about life online is admen stalking kids across the web, according to new research.

Unveiling the results of its study [PDF] at the Family Online Safety Institute's annual conference in Washington DC on Wednesday, Hart Research noted that 57 per cent of parents feel the harms outweigh the benefits when it comes to online tracking.

The next biggest concern was children having a social network account. In that case, 43 per cent of parents felt the negatives outweigh the positives, although that figure drops significantly to 26 per cent for those parents that have actually allowed their child to have one. Not all parents were worried though: 26 per cent felt social networks provided more benefits than harms.

That view was backed by an expert panel later in the day looking at the "psychological impact of digital media."

Reynol Junco of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard said social media has "definite positive effects if it is used in an educational way; positive and negative if the kids are left to their own devices." He advocated for pulling social networks into the educational curriculum, while also warning that playing games through social media was largely a negative experience for kids.

Why the net is good for you

What were the main benefits and harms of online life? A significant 39 per cent of those surveyed felt that the additional educational benefits that kids derive from the internet are its biggest plus point; likewise 18 per cent quote the ready access to knowledge. On the downside, 22 per cent of parents most feared a stalker or predator online, followed by 13 per cent who said the viewing of inappropriate material was a harming factor.

Despite all that, however parents are pretty relaxed – even ambivalent about the impact of the internet on their kids' lives.

Only 10 per cent did not think they were able to effectively manage their children's access to material and 64 per cent were confident they had it under control (although that confidence falls the older the child gets).

The research also helped answer the question on every parents' mind: when should we allow our little one to have a phone?

The answer appears to be 11 years old, although parents are seemingly split into two camps on the issue: more conservative group say kids should be 14 before they get a phone (good luck with that).

As for keeping tabs on your kids' usernames and passwords: 86 percent of polled parents of children aged 6 to 9 say they know them all, falling down to 49 per cent for 14 to 17 years old – a figure that one of the researchers, Jay Campbell, suggested was "somewhat on the delusional end of things."

The good news is that most parents - 65 per cent - talk regularly to their kids about going online, with just 6 per cent saying they have not talked to them about it.

'Chill out'

Don't worry about the internet turning your precious darling into an antisocial sex-obsessed monster. Michael Rich of the Center on Media and Child Health at Harvard told attendees that even though he was getting an increasing number of children referred to him for various cases of "electronic addiction", it was almost always a symptom of an underlying issue than the entity itself.

Obsessively following social media is more of a sign that your son or daughter is socially anxious and fear they will not be successful in face-to-face relationships than being unhealthily addicted to something.

There are also big pluses to having the internet over when parents were their kids' age. They engage is less risky sexual behavior and they get to take risks with their identity in a much safer environment. "Parents needs to chill out," Junco told the audience. "The modern world is not any scarier than we were kids."

The researched was developed from about 900 interviews with parents of three different groups of children in the United States: 6-9 years old; 10-13; and 14-17 – plus three focus groups held in Maryland in September. You can find it online here: www.fosi.org/policy-research/parenting-digital-age. ®

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