Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The "Real" Digital Divide: Parents and Kids

From the Center for Media Research, findings from a new Symantec study comparing kids' and parents' internet use (and perceptions thereof) across the globe. The study, entitled the Norton Online Living Report and conducted by Harris Interactive, supports previous findings that parents have a lot of misconceptions when it comes to what (and for how long) their kids are doing online, while introducing a much-needed international dimension to this discussion (I'm thinking about the MTV studies, but otherwise, big transnational studies of this type are still surprisingly rare). Here's an excerpt:
Of thousands of children and adults, Internet users in the U.S., UK, Australia, Germany, France, Brazil, China and Japan, 52% around the world report having made friends online, suggesting that "don't talk to strangers" doesn't apply when in online worlds. In addition, 46% of users who made friends online said they enjoyed those relationships as much or more than friendships made offline. Other online activities ranking high around the world are dating (23%), using social networking sites (50%), and playing games (72%).

The study found that parents in the U.S. think their kids are online two hours a month, but in reality, kids report spending 20 hours a month online. And, 41% of U.S. teens ages 13-17 years old agree that their parent have no idea what they are looking at online.

Additional findings of relevance include (remembering that all of these stats appear to apply solely to adults, teens and children who are "online", whatever that means):

* 35% of US online children aged 8-17 have made friends online (a number that climbs to 50% when looking only at the 13-17 age group).

* One in three US children report that they prefer to spend time with their online friends the same amount or more than their offline friends.

* 76% of US teens ages 13-17 years old "constantly," "frequently" or "sometimes" visit social networking sites. Globally, about half of boys (51%) and girls (48%) visit social networking sites.

* Kids (are we to assume 8-12 yrs here???) take after their parents when it comes to social networking = 47% of US parents and 46% of US children "constantly," "frequently" or "sometimes" use social networks.

* Social networking is even more popular in China, where 78% of online adults and 85% of online children visit them "constantly," "frequently" or "sometimes".

* 35% of American children and 69% of Chinese children report being "very confident" or "confident" in shopping online.

* About 40% US teens (ages 13-17) have received an online request for personal information. (doesn't specify is the requests were from another user or from a site)

* 16% of US children have been approached online by a stranger. On the other hand, adults believe that only 6% of children have been approached online by a stranger.

* On average, only a third of parents worldwide set parental controls and monitor their children's online activities.

The study press release includes various other interesting info, particularly about adult internet use. All in all, the findings are about what you'd expect, although I'm disappointed to see that so little emphasis was placed on international comparisons...although its perhaps more likely that they just didn't include info about the other countries surveyed in the press release (i.e. the UK, Australia, Germany, France, Brazil, and Japan). The release focuses on safety as the key message, concluding that "This report clearly demonstrates a global digital divide between parents and their cyber-savvy children." (there's that "cyber-savvy" term again...seems pretty inappropriate in this context). But I really like Dave Cole's (Senior Product Manager for Norton by Symantec) summary, which touches upon a really important component of parents' oft-reported "ignorance" when it comes to their kids' online habits:
"Two-way communications technologies—things like VoIP, chat and instant message—were seamlessly integrated into online games, virtual worlds, e-commerce sites and more. The integration happened so rapidly that we never stopped to think that we were really connecting with strangers… albeit in an online world. It’s only natural that the relationships that were born online would eventually migrate to the offline world. What surprised us was how fast this migration has occurred and how deeply it has infiltrated nearly every activity, from online dating and networking to online baking and information seeking." Dave Cole, Senior Product Manager, Norton by Symantec.

This reminds me of a conversation I overheard at an electronics store a few months ago between a parent and a store clerk. The parent's very young child (around 5 or 6 years) wanted a Nintendo DS, and the parent was trying to find out whether the device would allow the child to communicate with strangers (it does). The store clerk immediately said no, and when the parent followed up that they had heard in the news that this was possible, trying to delicately describe the news story about a predator using a portable gaming device to approach kids, the clerk mumbled something about that being only true of the older models, but that the new ones didn't "have that" (problem? feature?). The clerk's response was confused, confusing and ultimately untrue, and I think that the entire scenario quite aptly demonstrates what it is that parents and other adults are dealing with (including store clerks, who are often under-trained and underpaid youth themselves) ...a rapidly changing technological environment, filled with rumours and misinformation, where media converge and collide without notice, and where the old rules -- established in no small part by government regulation -- no longer seem to apply.

No comments: