Wednesday's Center for Media Research Research BriefParents are in the Dark discusses the disconnect between parents' perceptions of their children's online usage versus reality. Although some of statistics are seemingly shocking, I couldn't help but shrug my shoulders and think - are parents ever really in the know about their children's lives and activities?
When I was in high school, I would wait until my parents went to bed so I could sneak downstairs in the middle of the night to chat with friends online. Aside from online experiences, I know I'm not the only one that has stories of childhood rebellion that we still haven't told our parents. So I can't say that I'm all that surprised that parents feel uncertain about what their kids are really up to online.
I realize that my late night flirt-fests probably weren't what concerned my parents. To Catch a Predator is more along the lines of what they were terrified about since "don't talk to strangers" doesn't seem to apply to the online world. I can definitely sympathize with that from a parent's perspective. However, the article cites that 52% [of children and adults] around the world report using online forums as ways of meeting new people and I think we can all agree that this statistic is only going to increase in the future. So what is the solution for concerned parents?
Talk to your children.
Add it to the repertoire of potentially awkward parent-child conversations - the birds and the bees, puff the magic dragon, and now the dos and don'ts of online friend-making. Thankfully, online we are not risking ourselves in the same way as we are if we interact with a stranger on the street. There is no immediate danger. Sigh...
Marian Merritt, Internet Safety Advocate, Symantec, rightly states: "This report clearly demonstrates a global digital divide between parents and their cyber-savvy children...." However, you don't have to be entirely computer saavy to keep your children safe from the online world. Kids need to know what NOT to disclose to strangers and when to exercise discretion - similar to meeting new people in real life. If you've chatted with your children about stranger danger, just make sure to stress that these same principles apply to their online use. Besides if you trust your children to make good decisions in school and with friends, shouldn't you trust them online?
The internet's ability to connect us with people around the world is arguably its greatest feature. We should boast about it, not fear it.
Besides what's more disturbing to me is that 46% of users who made friends online said they enjoyed those relationships as much or more than friendships made off-line. Hmm?