The Norton Online Family Report has just been issued. This is the third, massive, global study Norton has fielded to understand the online experiences of adults and youth. We conducted online interviews in 14 countries, with more than 7,000 adults and nearly 3,000 youth (ages 8-18) on topics such as time spent online, experiences with negative online events, and the emotional fallout young people have when things go wrong online.
Numerous studies have come out in the last year to tell us that young people spend ever increasing amounts of time online and ours had a similar finding. We saw online time is up 10% from last year. This year, we also saw a big change in what we call “the perception gap” that we’d seen in the past, where adults were clueless as to how much time their children spent online. This year, that gap has closed. So let’s view that as good news. Even if our children are online more than we (or they) would like, at least we parents are staying sufficiently connected that we’re aware of it.
And there’s more good news. Evidence suggests that more parents are talking to their children about internet safety, even if their focus remains on two key issues: online privacy and exposure to porn or violence. Much of the parental concern about online privacy (don’t post your address, real name or phone number) is really about avoiding online predation. These worries about the ugly side of the Internet are important lessons to impart. But there is a wide spectrum of online negative experiences that 62% of children globally are experiencing. We need to get parents talking more about all the day-to-day problems their children have with the online world, like the peer to peer issue of cyberbullying, as well as internet safety, reputation management and digital literacy.
You’re not surprised to hear me suggest parents should be talking more about cyberbullying. If my recommendation isn’t enough for you to put it as a priority topic, let me share another key finding in the Norton Online Family Report: kids follow parents’ rules about the internet but they also add their own rules. Those rules heavily focus on issues of cyberbullying and online reputation. Here are some of the kid generated rules to consider:
Don’t bully online
Don’t be mean online
Don’t harass or stalk online
Don’t post or share embarrassing photos or comments
But we still have room for improvement. Most children (62%) in the study report having a negative experience online. Some of those problems our children are encountering include contacts from a stranger on a social network, cyberbullying, or downloading a virus. The most common negative online experience was the stranger contact on the social network (41%). This might mean a young person contacted them from outside their immediate circle of real world friends but it might also mean a complete stranger. Either way, many children find this such a common experience as to not bother or alarm them. But parents view the issue with much greater concern. Either way, make sure you talk to your children as they join social networks to remind them that inevitably, someone they don’t really know will ask to be their “friend.” Make sure they know your family rule is you can only friend people online that you know in the real world.
Regarding downloading a virus, I’m not surprised that 1/3 of kids report having had this happen. If you can imagine, 6 out of 10 parents have little idea of how much their kids are downloading from the web: music, videos, games, programs. Know that of those children who’ve downloaded a virus, the vast majority (77%) feel strongly responsible. That can be a heavy burden to carry for a young child, especially if the virus caused real damage or economic harm to the family.
Not only should you restrict the privilege of downloading to older children to keep your computer safe but you need to educate your children about how to download safely. Our children need to learn about being digitally literate. Such knowledge includes learning how to search for information online, which search results are safe to click on, how to avoid falling for online scams and avoiding adownloading malware. Some of this knowledge they will get from school; much will come from their peers. How much better we’d all be if the majority of that knowledge came from their parents?
Globally, only 37% of parents are using parental controls or family safety software to keep an eye on their children’s online activities. For the 66% of parents who haven’t yet taken steps to help set family rules, to guide children to the safest websites and best online environments, or simply to remind their children about the importance of guarding your online reputation, I have big news. This week the award-winning family safety service, Norton Online Family, is launching globally. Now available in 25 languages, Norton Online Family can help families the world over to keep the internet a positive element in your lives. And best of all, the service is FREE. Comparable programs run about $60 per computer. So when you consider that Norton Online Family can be installed on up to 10 computers (PC and Mac) and is free for all, it’s a service worth recommending to any parent you know, any parent anywhere in the world.