The Internet may hold extraordinary promise for children, but their parents also carry deep fears about its possible influence, says a new survey released today about kids and computers.
"We found this incredible conflict," said Joseph Turow, who wrote the report for the Annenberg Public Policy Centre in the US. "People trust their kids with the Internet, but they don't trust the Internet with their kids." The survey results, being released today in America, suggest a Jekyll-and-Hyde view by parents of the Internet, where graphic sexual photos are merely mouse-clicks away from children's Web sites.
"The concern is there," agreed Darlene Maloney, president of the Indiana Parent Teachers Association. "You read about all the garbage that happened to this one and that one, and they're fearful. They're learning it can be your friend as well as your enemy." Two of Mrs. Maloney's six children still live at home and use the Internet regularly, in part to send e-mail to their grown siblings who live in other cities.
The new study divides parents into three groups based on their reactions to specific statements about the Internet, such as: "My children's exposure to the Internet might interfere with the values and beliefs I want to teach them." Turow said 39 percent of parents can be described as "online worriers," who are convinced of both the happy and scary elements of the Internet and most concerned about the impact of the Web on kids. The same percentage of parents are "gung ho" about the Internet, enthusiastic about the Web and rejecting nearly all statements about its alleged negative effects, he said.
Turow described other parents as "disenchanted," not at all convinced about the Internet's value for children. Just over half these parents agree that the Internet can help kids with their homework, and only 28 percent agreed with the statement, "The Internet can help my children learn about diversity and tolerance."
Kathryn Montgomery, who heads the Center for Media Education in Washington, said some parents believe their children are more expert than they are at using the Internet. "Often they're more familiar than parents are. We're struggling as parents to keep up with them," Montgomery said. She added: "We're dealing with a very new medium in its earliest, formative stages, and we have an opportunity to help shape it. We don't have to be frightened, passive grownups worried about what it's going to do to our kids."
Turow said the study -- and others like it -- are important in gauging the future of the medium. "We're at the threshold of a whole new cultural experience," he said. "This is not going to go away. This is going to become the fabric of our lives." The study was based on a telephone poll of 1,102 parents in homes with at least one working computer and at least one child between the ages of 8 and 17. The interviews were conducted between Nov. 12 and Dec. 20 and carried a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
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