- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Nearly half of all American parents say they are skeptical about the usefulness of the Internet for their children, worried that the harm from being online outweighs the benefits, according to a new survey released Wednesday.

Even with the doubts, however, some 93 percent of the over 900 parents polled also believe their child is “somewhat” or “very” safe while surfing the Web, according to the survey results released by the Hart Research Center.

“It goes both ways: Modern technology is a wonderful thing if you use it in a good way, but then it also is a bad thing because it brings up the trust value,” said one parent of a 10-year-old and 13-year-old interviewed for the study. “Children are so trustworthy [of] these modern technologies that they sometimes neglect the fact that it can cause harm to them.”

A slight majority of parents — 53 percent — said they believe the Internet’s benefits outweigh the dangers it can pose, and can be particularly helpful dealing with schoolwork. The schoolwork/educational response more than doubled any other response when parents were asked how they thought their child could benefit from online technology.

But with the benefits come risks, according to many of the parents interviewed.

Nearly a quarter of those surveyed were most worried by the presence of stalkers, child molesters and predators lurking online.

Nearly all parents, 94 percent, say they have at least talked to their child about the potential dangers of the Internet, but 47 percent of parents admitted they did not use any parental controls to supervise what sites their children could access.

The survey was sponsored by the Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) with the support of Google, Microsoft, CTIA The Wireless Association and Cable Impacts Foundation. The interviews were conducted in September and October 2014.

The survey comes at a time when kids are more plugged in than ever before. A decade ago, 46 percent of children between 12 and 17 years old had their own cellphone, according to a 2010 survey by the Pew Research Center. In 2012, that number was up to 75 percent. Over half of kids aged 6 to 17 now also have their own video game console, cellphone, tablet and MP3 player, and 99 percent of children in the age group have access to a desktop or laptop computer in their own home.

“When considering potential benefits and harms of technology, parents’ top-of-mind focus tends to be on the positive impacts on children’s learning and ability to stay informed,” according to the survey authors. “They report a variety of potential harms that come to their minds, with concerns about online stalkers or predators and inappropriate content mentioned most often.”

Although nearly all parents report talking to their children about the dangers lurking on the Web, 35 percent of parents say the conversation has not happened more than once, and parents who were least confident in their ability to manage their child’s technology were also less likely to have the conversation regularly.

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