To Internet or not to Internet—Balancing the good and the bad


It’s a conflict every parent faces—I want my child to have the opportunities provided by the Internet, but I don’t want them to face online risks. So, just how to we let our kids benefit from all the good and avoid all the bad that the Internet provides?

To start answering this question, it might be helpful to know what parents are actually doing, and what effects these efforts have. A study released this month in Journal of Communication found that kids tend to encounter more online risks when their parents set relatively fewer rules about Internet use. Not surprising, of course. But, these same kids also benefit less from opportunities provided by the Internet. On the other hand, children whose parents tend to talk with them more about the Internet and Internet safety in lieu of setting strict rules tend to encounter both Internet opportunities and risks more often.

As parents, then, do we set strict rules and prevent our kids from online risks and opportunities? Or, do we allow their access to the Internet—and its opportunities and risks—while trying to talk with them about Internet and Internet safety?

The study I’ve referred to also found that parents who tend to guide their kids Internet use, more so than using rules, appear to be more confident that their kids can handle the risks when (not if) they come. On the other hand, parents who use rules to parent the Internet for them appear to be less confident in their children’s ability to deal with risky content when it comes. It seems, then, that at the root of all of this is parents’ digital literacy. To use a sports analogy, the more I know about my opponent, the better prepared I can be. Similarly, the more parents know about and have experience with the Internet, the more prepared they are to support their children’s Internet use. And vice versa, the less parents know about risks and opportunities of the Internet, the less empowered they feel to help guide their children’s Internet use. These suggestions are supported by other research we’ve conducted.

So, the question about whether or not, or how much, to let kids use the Internet really becomes a different question, doesn’t it? The right question to be asking is “how digitally literate am I as a parent?”

The answer to that question can serve as a guide your Internet parenting efforts. And if that’s not concrete enough of an answer for you, check out my thoughts on using rules to do the parenting for us.

What Internet rules do you have? What conversations do you have with your children about the Internet? What results have you seen with any of your Internet parenting efforts?

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