Parents as Internet watchdogs may backfire

Parents as Internet watchdogs may backfire

The prevalence of social media has some parents nervous. When it comes to their kids, the potential for risky online behavior can be high—and tempting for many. In an effort to stem this, parents may keep close tabs on their children’s Internet use. New research says, however, that this monitoring may actually produce the opposite effect.

Recent study research conducted at the University of Haifa, in Israel, compared parents’ efforts to cope with their children’s Internet use with teens’ perceptions of their peer group’s social norms.

Participants included nearly 500 children between the ages of 10 and 18 years old. Parents’ efforts were then divided into three categories:

  • Mediation through supervision: This included software installation to block sites, recordings of sites visited or limiting Internet time.
  • Mediation through guidance: Parents attempted to explain Internet risks to their children, provided help using the Internet, suggested ways to use it safely and offered help when something bothered them online.
  • Non-intervention

Study results revealed that aggressive supervision led to the most negative results. When this approach was used more by parents, their children in turn would engage in more risky online behavior. The study found no link, either positive or negative,  between the other approaches and risky Internet use.

Kris Umfress, licensed psychologist at Advocate Children’s Hospital in Park Ridge, Ill., says there’s a reason why children are likely to respond this way. “I think teens feel like their parents don’t trust them, and it sounds like they rebel by trying to get away with something,” she says.

“I believe some monitoring is helpful and the safe choice, despite the results of the study,” Umfress adds.

Apparently, peers wield more influence than parents when it comes to risky online behavior. According to study results, what peers thought of this type of behavior either encouraged or warded off participation. If children felt their friends approved of this behavior, they were more likely to engage in it.

Despite this peer influence, families, and even parents still play an important role. The study revealed that in families with demonstrated strong emotional bonding, adolescents were less likely to participate in risky Internet behavior.

Umfress adds that parents can also still have an impact, if they use a thoughtful approach. “Parents need to have open and frequent communication with their teenagers. Spending time going out to breakfast or out for coffee each week is one way to make communication happen. It is also important to have positive shared activities with your teenager, such as sports, going to movies, etc. Often the relationship becomes all about discipline without fun and enjoyment,” she says.

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health enews Staff
health enews Staff

health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Health Care sites, also including freelance or intern writers.