The Washington Post

New fears for parents over online activity

As our children’s embrace of social networks expands, so too have our fears of the repercussions of that use, according to a new poll of parents.

(Charlie Riedel)

The Pew Internet Project and the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University Tuesday released the study called “Parents, Teens and Online Privacy.”

A full 81 percent of parents reported being concerned about how much advertisers are tracking their kids.

Almost as many also expressed anxiety over the evergreen parental fear — stranger interaction. A total of 72 percent of parents are at least somewhat concerned about if and how their teen is engaging with strangers online.

There is also anxiety over what the authors called “reputational management.” Sixty-nine percent of parents fear that their teen is posting material that will end up damaging his reputation.

That’s related to another oft-cited worry, how a teen’s use of social media today will affect his future. Seventy percent of parents said they were concerned their child’s online activity might inhibit later opportunities, such as college admittance or employment.

What is as, if not more, interesting is that less than half of the parents surveyed said they avail themselves of relatively simple monitoring opportunities, such as searching for their child’s name online. Only half said they use parental controls. Less than a third said they set up privacy settings.

Why the disconnect? It may have something to do with the fact that more parents themselves are using social networking sites.

Sixty-six percent of parents said they now use a social networking site, that’s an eight point jump from last year.

Half of those parents said they had directly responded to something their child had publicly posted. Others, Pew authors noted, may be using the time-honored child-rearing strategy of “passively” monitoring their kids, or watching them online without kids knowing they are posting both for the benefit of friends and also their parents.

What about you? Do you monitor your child’s online activities? What are you most concerned about?

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