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Research shows Social media is parents’ greatest online fear

Only 26% of those surveyed felt the benefits of allowing their children to use sites such as Facebook outweighed the potential risks, according to new research.

Parents are more concerned about their children’s use of social media services than any other online activity according to research from a US-based digital safety group. Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) conducted qual & quant research on parents of children aged 6-17 to understand parents’ feelings about and monitoring of their children’s use of technology.

The report found that the degree to which parents actively oversee their children’s online activities decreases the older their child is. 95% of parents say they monitor their child’s technology use somewhat closely with 41% of parents of teens saying they monitor usage closely. This rises considerably to 68% of parents to children age 6 to 9 who say they monitor technology usage very closely.
When weighing the potential benefits and potential harms of their children using electronic devices and being online, the majority of parents (53%) feel that, overall, the potential benefits outweigh the potential harms.

Parents site the positive impacts of technology to be on children’s learning and ability to stay informed, potential harms and parents’ concerns were focused on their children accessing inappropriate content and coming into contact with stalkers and predators. Parents make different calculations on benefits vs. harms depending on the technology.

Among activities parents scored lowest in terms of the benefits outweighing the negatives are using a smartphone (38%) and playing online games (44%) however using Social Media was the only online activity and technology for which more parents believed the harms outweighed the benefits or were equally balanced; with only 26% saying the benefits outweigh the harms.
Among the 53% of parents who said their child had a social networking account, more than three quarters (78%) have logged on to their child’s account to check their posts.

Three quarters of parents are concerned about inappropriate content

Jen Hanley, legal and policy director of FOSI, said parents were concerned that their children might “overshare” online by posting personal information that could then not be withdrawn. It also reflected parents’ difficulty in keeping up with the latest social networking platforms, she added: “Many parents say that now they are on Facebook, their kids are not.”

Just over three quarters (76%) were either very concerned or somewhat concerned about the prospect of their child seeing inappropriate or harmful content online, or companies tracking their child’s online activity for marketing purposes. The prospect of their child communicating with a stranger online was very or somewhat concerning for 69%.

According to the report, just over half (53%) of parents say they have used parental controls to prevent their child from accessing to certain types of online content and nearly as many (47%) have suspended in-app purchases.

Hanley said that FOSI was encouraging more people to use tools such as parental controls to give them more peace of mind about their children’s online activities.