Mind the (online) gap

Feb 04, 2008

Instant messaging, blogs, Facebook, MySpace — there are limitless ways your child communicates online with the offline world. And the risks and opportunities are only increasing.

A new Tel Aviv University research study has found that, despite what parents might believe, there is an enormous gap between what they think their children are doing online and what is really happening.

In her study, Prof. Dafna Lemish from the Department of Communication at Tel Aviv University surveyed parents and their children about the children’s activities on the Internet. “The data tell us that parents don’t know what their kids are doing,” says Prof. Lemish.

Her study was unique in that parents and children from the same family were surveyed.

In one part of the study, Prof. Lemish surveyed over 500 Jewish and Arab children from a variety of ages and socio-economic backgrounds, asking them if they gave out personal information online. Seventy-three percent said that they do. The parents of the same children believed that only 4 percent of their children did so.

The same children were also asked if they had been exposed to pornography while surfing, or if they had made face-to-face contact with strangers that they had met online. Thirty-six percent from the high school group admitted to meeting with a stranger they had met online. Nearly 40% of these children admitted to speaking with strangers regularly (within the past week).

Fewer than 9 percent of the parents knew that their children had been meeting with strangers, engaging in what could be viewed as very risky behavior. Prof. Lemish suspects that this gap is wider in the U.S., where children from middle-class backgrounds have more opportunity to surf online privately.

In another part of the study, Prof. Lemish found that 30 percent of children between the ages of 9 and 18 delete the search history from their browsers in an attempt to protect their privacy from their parents. She suggests that common filtering software may not be effective, since children will access what they are looking for elsewhere — at a friend’s house, an Internet café, or school. And if the child accesses dangerous material outside of the home, they will be unprepared and uninformed when it happens, she says.

Prof. Lemish believes that one problem is that parents are not as media-literate as they could be. They don’t have a handle on using popular online software and chat programs, and tend to have no clue about what is really happening online.

But she cautions, “This lack of knowledge on the parents’ part may be no different than the situation before the advent of the Web. Parents don't know what their children are doing on the Net, in the same manner that they don't know what goes on at class, parties, or clubs.”

Prof. Lemish advises that parents should give their children the tools to be literate Internet users, and to navigate around any potential dangers. Most importantly, parents need to talk to their children. “The child needs similar tools that teach them to be weary of dangers in the park, the mall or wherever. The same rules in the real world apply online as well.

“For example, under no circumstances, should a child ever give strangers their private information over the Internet, or meet unsupervised with strangers. Children should be encouraged to tell their parents about Internet encounters that make them uncomfortable. It’s just common sense and parents need to teach them that. Talking with your children regularly is important.”

At the same time, she stresses, parents should not disregard the advantages of the Internet: “We tend to forget that it offers our children a source of independence, a way to explore the world, and helps them meet friends whom they could not meet in their real world. As parents, we need to help them explore the positive opportunities the Internet offers them, and to reduce the risks."

Source: American Friends of Tel Aviv University

Explore further: Art of Science 2014: Princeton launches online galleries of prize-winning images and video

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Do daughters really cause divorce? Maybe not

21 hours ago

In the U.S., couples with daughters are somewhat more likely to divorce than couples with sons. Many scholars have read those numbers as evidence that daughters cause divorce.

Researchers investigate Italian diaspora

Jul 10, 2014

Third-generation Italian-Canadians' connections to their grandparents' culture is the subject of the Simon Fraser University Institute For Diaspora Research and Engagement's (IDRE) first online survey.

A 'magic moment' for unwed parents

Jul 02, 2014

If unwed parents are going to get married, the best window of opportunity for that union seems to be before their child turns 3, says a new study from Duke University.

The secret formula to successful online dating

Jun 19, 2014

If it seems as if everyone you know is online dating, you're not alone. According to recent surveys, more than 40m single people out of 54m singles in the US have signed up to an online dating site such as ...

Who's your daddy? Researchers program computer to find out

Jun 19, 2014

A University of Central Florida research team has developed a facial recognition tool that promises to be useful in rapidly matching pictures of children with their biological parents and in potentially identifying ...

Singapore grapples with smartphone addiction

Jun 14, 2014

Easily distracted? Can't be separated from your smartphone? Constantly checking your device for no real reason? Chances are you're an addict—and you may even need professional help.

Recommended for you

How to win a Tour de France sprint

16 hours ago

The final dash to the line in a Tour de France sprint finish may appear to the bystander to be a mess of bodies trying to cram into the width of a road, but there is a high degree of strategy involved. It ...

Bible museum planned for US capital

Jul 18, 2014

The devout Christian family that upended a part of President Barack Obama's health care law aims to open a Bible museum in Washington in 2017, a spokesperson for the project said Friday.

The science behind Tour de France's hide-and-seek tactics

Jul 15, 2014

When the Tour de France comes to town, it's a chance to get your gladrags on. This year's Grand Depart in Yorkshire saw Leeds decked out with yellow flowers, bikes placed in coffee bar windows, statues wearing ...

User comments : 0