A decade or so ago, parents didn’t have to worry as much about what their children were doing online. The dangers of the web obviously still existed, but they were easier for parents to monitor. Most households just had one desktop computer to be shared amongst the whole family. Many homes had no computers at all. According to U.S. Census data, 61.8% of Americans had a computer in their household in 2003. By 2013, that number had not only risen to 83.8%, but previously unimaginable options like laptops, handheld computers and mobile devices had been added to the survey.
The rise of social media and the ubiquity of computers present difficult challenges for modern parents. According to a 2012 study conducted by NCL Communication, 56% of parents with kids ages 8-12 have given their children a smartphone of their own. That’s close to the amount of desktop computers that were in households in 2003. Technology is growing and spreading at a rapid rate. The Internet is essentially everywhere, and children have unfiltered access to it at a young age.
From cyberbulling and shaming to stalking or hacking, the web is not a safe place for young children. It’s especially dangerous considering children and parents alike might be unaware or uneducated about the dangers they face on social media. The Internet is the type of playground that you wouldn’t let your children play in alone.
In order to evaluate how people feel about parents monitoring the activity of children online, we conducted a survey that posed the following question: “Should parents have complete access to their children’s social media accounts?” The overwhelming majority of respondents — 67.8% — answered “yes.” Just 32.2% said “no.”
Unsurprisingly, age was one of the major factors influencing people’s responses. 81.8% of respondents ages 65+ believed parents should have complete access to their children’s accounts. The majority of 35-44 year olds (80.4%) and 25-34 year olds (58.5%). Parental status also had a major impact on the survey's results. Out of the 43 respondents who listed themselves as either parents or non-parents, 100% of the parents said “yes” and none of them said “no.”
It’s interesting that the younger generation places less of an emphasis on social media monitoring, especially because the issue will only become more prevalent as technology evolves. Laws restricting access to content online based on age currently exist (like the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act), but are easily avoided. Other solutions are already being worked out or tested. A new Illinois law, for instance, grants school districts and universities the right to access kids’ social media accounts. A Wisconsin high school recently held a “Social Media 101” class to help parents figure out how to manage their kids’ online activity.
The amount of restriction parents place on their children’s social media accounts will inevitably vary on an individual basis. Many will argue that monitoring a kid’s online activity is no different than monitoring their social interactions when they’re at school or hanging out with friends. Taking complete control is impossible, and education is more important. There is, however, a fine line between protection and invasion of privacy. With technology constantly growing and changing, everyone is still trying to figure out exactly where that line exists.
Based on the results of our survey, it appears as if most people support allowing parents to have complete of their children’s social media accounts. Every family, of course, will come to their own decision regarding how to best monitor those accounts. If a parent wants his or her child’s Facebook account name and password, that is his or her right. Parents also need to become more educated about technology and social media in order to understand the ways in which children will inevitably find ways to work around any restrictions they come across. There’s a balance that needs to be struck in order to ensure all people have freedom to explore and express themselves online while remaining as safe as possible.
Image Source: The Denver Post