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What Scares Parents Most About Tech? Facebook Creeps and Nosy Ads

Dan Tynan
Girls looking shocked at image on laptop
Girls looking shocked at image on laptop

(Thinkstock)

The Web isn’t as frightening as it used to be, according to a new survey released Wednesday by the Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) at its annual conference in Washington, D.C. (Yahoo is a sponsor of FOSI.) But parents are still wary of the Web, and for good reasons.

More than 60 percent of parents feel comfortable about how their kids use technology, and more than half believe the benefits of tech outweigh the potential harms, says the Parenting in the Digital Age survey. However, that confidence starts to erode as the kids enter their middle teens. Nearly half of all parents with children age 6 to 9 feel their kids are very safe online. That number drops to 27 percent for parents with teens between 14 and 17.

That is, not surprisingly, the age where teens’ tech savvy begins to surpass that of adults. While four out of five parents of elementary schoolers are confident they know more about tech than their youngsters, that number drops to about a third by the time the kids are in high school.

Graphic titled 'Who knows more about technology, you or your child'
Graphic titled 'Who knows more about technology, you or your child'

(All charts courtesy of FOSI)

In nearly all cases, parents say the benefits of technology — including games, apps, and smartphones — outweigh the negatives. The glaring exception? Social media. Some 43 percent of parents say the potentially harmful aspects of social networks outweigh the positive; just one in four believe that Facebook, Twitter, and other networks are more beneficial to their kids.

One caveat: A large majority of those who diss social networks don’t allow their kids to create accounts (or, at least, they think they’re keeping their kids from them). In other words, they’re not exactly well informed on the topic.

Graphic about benefits and harm of various technologies
Graphic about benefits and harm of various technologies

The most likely reason lies within another stat: 22 percent of parents believe the biggest threats to their kids are “stalkers, child molesters, predators, [and] bad people lurking online.”

Still, they appear to be worried more about predatory marketers than actual predators. Parents are just as concerned about how marketers are tracking their kids’ online activities as they are about their children stumbling upon the seamy underbelly of the Web. Just over three-quarters of parents said they were concerned about Web content and online tracking; the next biggest worries were stranger danger, oversharing, and an excess of screen time.

Bar chart showing parents' concerns about various online activities
Bar chart showing parents' concerns about various online activities

Overall, 57 percent of parents feel the potential harm from online tracking outweighs any benefits; only 16 percent see them as positive. As kids grow into their teens, this concern drops to a still-substantial 51 percent.

Chart showing parents' concerns about online marketing
Chart showing parents' concerns about online marketing

Some 95 percent of parents say they monitor their teens’ activities, but exactly how they’re doing it varies. Slightly more than half say they use parental controls, and slightly less than half restrict the apps their kids purchase. About a third monitor where their kids go online or track their locations via their smartphones.

The survey was conducted online by Hart Research Associates on behalf of FOSI and included more than 500 parents of kids age 6 to 17 who access the Internet.

Questions, complaints, kudos? Email Dan Tynan at ModFamily1@yahoo.com.