Older Parents Are Much Less Aware Of Online Dangers Than Younger Moms and Dads

Older Parents Are Much Less Aware Of Online Dangers Than Younger Moms and Dads

Last updated on May 11, 2021

Do you know what your children get up to online? Do you know how to keep them safe? More importantly, are you confident you would know what to do if you were to try to intervene?

If you are under 30, you’re probably nodding along right now. If you’re an older parent, though, the chances are that you might not be 100% sure of how to tackle problems like these.

… At least, that’s what the results of our latest survey showed.

Our Findings- Summarized

The survey found that, overall, younger parents were much more aware of the kind of risks their children are likely to encounter online and took greater precautions to keep them safe. That may be because they’re “digital natives” themselves: they grew up using the internet at a time when these dangers began to emerge, so they’re much more clued up about what can go wrong.

Older parents, on the other hand, are a lot less likely to forbid or prevent their children from doing things online that may put them in harm’s way. That’s not because they take safety less seriously, of course. They simply aren’t as aware of the kinds of dangers that are out there, or of the technologies and strategies at their disposal to protect their children when they go online.

That’s not to say that younger parents can necessarily afford to be smug, though. While our survey suggested that their kids spend less time online and are more carefully monitored, that could simply be because these children are also younger. Toddlers are a lot easier to manage than teenagers, after all, and it’s much harder to get a secretive 15-year-old to open up about potentially dangerous online activity.

That makes it all the more important that parents of kids of all ages don’t just block sites, but also take the time to talk to their children about internet safety. On this point, older parents in our survey were actually a lot more proactive than their younger counterparts. Under-30s tend not to have had the chat.

In other words, parents of all ages are skipping important steps they need to take to make sure their children stay safe online.

Let’s take a look at the survey findings in more detail.

Parental Controls and Filtering

using parental controls

What it Means

Parental Controls refer to any kind of software that lets you filter out certain websites or otherwise place controls on their internet access and use. It’s a handy way to stop your children from accessing unsafe or otherwise inappropriate content online.

There are a bunch of different ways to apply parental controls, but they fall into three broad categories: network level, device level, and application controls.

Network-level controls are ones that you put in place on your router or hub. These then affect all devices that connect to your home WiFi.

Device-level controls are (you guessed it!) the ones that you set up on a particular device, such as a phone or tablet. This means that they are always enforced for that device, wherever you’re using it and whether you’re connected to WiFi or using data.

Application controls apply to the specific app, platform or site you’re using to access content. For example, you might set up filtering just for Google or YouTube, or for an internet browser like Chrome or Safari.

What the Survey Found

The survey asked respondents whether they had parental controls and/or filtering software installed on their computer.

Here, the difference between older and younger parents was stark. 61% of parents aged 18-30 reported using parental controls, which is double the percentage of parents aged 55+ who have these installed.

Why it Matters

Without parental controls or filtering, your children’s access to the internet is completely uncensored. This can mean that younger children, in particular, are likely to stumble across content by accident that’s completely inappropriate for their age group, or which disturbs and upsets them.

By installing parental controls, you not only have a way to ensure that your kids aren’t stumbling across violent or pornographic content, but you can also do things like tracking how much time they spend online or preventing them from going online at certain times of days. We’ll come back to why that’s important a little later in this article.

Top Tips to Protect Your Kids

Here are some practical steps you can take:

  • Make use of device controls on any phones, tablets and game consoles your children use
  • Set up parental controls on your home broadband
  • Add controls to the search engines you have installed on computers and laptops your children have access to
  • Block/Disable pop-ups on your browser
  • Activate the privacy settings on social media sites like Facebook to stop your children from seeing unsuitable ads
  • Have a chat with older kids about why you’re blocking certain sites or search terms and make it clear that you won’t be angry with them for viewing something they wish they hadn’t – you’re just trying to keep them safe.

Screens in the Bedroom

Screens in the Bedroom

What’s the Problem?

More and more people are permanently glued to a screen, and more and more of those screens can now follow us everywhere we go.

In the past, you could effectively put a stop to screen time for the evening by switching off the TV or computer and telling the kids it’s time for bed. These days, when even young children often have their own smartphones or tablets, they simply take these devices with them.

What the Survey Found

While younger parents were much more likely to say their children rarely used the internet, 82% of parents aged 55 or over reported that their children were either permanently glued to their phones or used the internet for 3-5 hours per day.

What’s more, 91% of these older parents also said that their child has access to a computer, laptop or smartphone in their bedroom, compared to just two-fifths of parents aged 18-30.

Why This Matters

There are two safety issues to bear in mind here.

Firstly, it’s harder to monitor what your kids are doing online or to ensure it’s never harmful to them if they’re constantly online and are, quite literally, left to their own devices, hidden away their bedrooms. That said, teenagers do need a certain level of privacy and they certainly don’t want to feel like you’re spying on them, so this is a more relevant issue for younger children.

For children of all ages, though – and indeed adults – checking your phone continually, especially before you go to sleep, is actually very bad news for your physical and mental health. Endless studies have shown that the blue light emitted from screens messes up your sleep cycle, but even with a phone switched to a less disruptive yellow tint for night-time reading, scrolling through your messages or Instagram as you get into bed wakes up your brain and makes it harder to drop off.

This is very bad news for anyone. Take it from the UK government, which is about to release a comprehensive report on the litany of health problems, from diabetes to depression, that develop when people get less than 7 hours of sleep each night.

For children and adolescents, who need a lot of sleep, this is particularly bad news. Add to this the fact that many teenagers are anxious, prone to heightened emotions, vulnerable to cyberbullying, and sensitive to perceived slights and feelings of being excluded generally… and you can see how obsessively checking their phones late at night could wreck their sleep, increase stress and exacerbate mental health problems.

Top Tips to Protect Your Kids

For younger children, try to get into the habit of limiting screen time and restricting internet access to devices or computers kept in shared spaces. Don’t let them squirrel away tablets or laptops into their bedrooms, and think very carefully about whether they really need their own phone (yet)!

For older kids and teenagers, implementing strict rules about internet access in their rooms is overkill and will probably be counterproductive anyway. You’ll make it harder for them to do schoolwork, as well as more secretive about what they’re up to on their phones.

Instead, explain why using their phones in the hour or two before bed is so bad for their health and state of mind, and come up with a plan together to tackle this. Give them an alarm clock so they can simply turn off phones at a certain time and encourage them to stick to it.

Too Much Information

limit child information online

What’s the Problem?

Would you tell a stranger your address and tell them when you’ll be on holiday? Do you want complete strangers knowing exactly where your kids are at any time of day?

Most adults are more cautious about their privacy than children are. What’s more, if you’re posting sensitive or personal information about yourself online, you have no control over who will see this and how they might use it.

What the Survey Found

Asked whether their children had a Facebook, Instagram or Twitter account, the vast majority of parents aged 18-30 (83%) answered no, whereas most parents aged 55+ (77%) said their children do use these social media platforms.

What’s more, whereas parents under 30 were generally pretty clear on what types of details their kids put in the “About Me” section, more than a quarter of parents over 55 said they didn’t know whether their children had disclosed information about their school, hometown, hobbies and so on. Only 32% were confident that their children didn’t include these details in their social media profiles.

Why This Matters

Revealing too much about yourself online can make you a target for criminals and predators. That goes for anyone. From identity theft to targeted scams, strangers can make use of the information you provide to harm you in myriad ways.

For children, giving away too many personal details can make them even more vulnerable to predatory behavior. No matter how many times you remind children not to talk to strangers, it’s going to be very difficult for them to challenge the authority or legitimacy of an adult who, for example, claims to know their parents and can reel off various details about their life.

Meanwhile, teenagers who overshare online are increasingly vulnerable to online blackmail scams and “sextortion” rings.

Here’s how that works: they get talking to someone online, believe they are developing a genuine relationship and are tricked into sending intimate photos, messages and so on. At this point, the other person threatens to send the photos and/or screenshots to the victim’s family or friends unless they pay thousands of dollars. Scams like these operate on an industrial scale, target both girls and boys, and frequently lead to depression and suicide.

Top Tips to Protect Your Kids

Interacting through Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and so on is ubiquitous and you probably can’t keep your children off social media forever. Plus, ignoring the problem just means that, when they do sign up for these things, they won’t have any idea about the issues and risks that this can incur.

Start by demonstrating how seriously you take your own privacy, so that this becomes the norm in your household. Explain why you don’t put too many personal details on your profiles, check into places to reveal your live location, etc.

When your kids are younger, it will be a lot easier for you to insist on them sharing their passwords with you, or letting you check their accounts to make sure they’re not publishing or sharing anything that makes them vulnerable.

As they get older, they will obviously resist fiercely that kind of meddling or intrusions into their privacy. A better tactic is to have frank conversations about how they can be targeted, why they need to keep accounts private and undiscoverable to people outside their network and remind them that anything you share online exists there forever, even if you delete it.

Unsafe Selfies

media accounts for children

What’s the Problem?

It’s not just compromising photos that create headaches or serious threats for young people. A recent UK report found that, by the time a child turns 13, there are typically 1300 pictures of them online.

Many of these photos are posted by other people – mostly, their parents – but they last forever. Embarrassing photos can be used to bully them later and these intrusions into their privacy can cause hurt and anger when they grow up. Kids and teenagers sometimes post unflattering pictures of each other out of spite, which might not sound like the worst thing in the world, but can be distressing for a person who is self-conscious about how they look or is already being teased at school.

Whether photos are posted by your child or by others, though, the result is a comprehensive digital footprint stretching from birth, which they can never fully take control of in adulthood.

Plus, once your child’s image is out there, pretty much anyone can save it and upload it as their own. Just take the creepy trend of “baby role-playing” that cropped up on Instagram a few years ago, using stolen photos of other people’s babies. Meanwhile, one Australian study found that half of all images found on pedophile websites began as innocent uploads – typically, they’d been copied from a parent’s social media or blog.

What the Survey Found

Asked whether their child has pictures of him or herself online, 68% of parents aged 55 or over said that they did. Meanwhile, just under a quarter of parents under 30 agreed with this statement, which could mean that this age group is far more cautious, but could also mean that their kids are too young to have started taking their own photos yet.

Why This Matters

Every day, we see stories about a person’s career being thrown into jeopardy because of something they posted as a teenager.

The fact is, children and teenagers are still negotiating their identities and sometimes that means they will say or do things that they will be mortified about in 20 years time. For those of us lucky enough to come of age before our whole lives were lived online, the most embarrassing of these moments live on only in the memories of our childhood friends and family, if at all. For today’s children, posting photographic evidence means that they’ll still be judged on this moment as if it was yesterday, even when they’re 40 years old and barely remember it.

Top Tips to Protect Your Kids

Again, the best place to start is by modeling safe, respectful behaviors when it comes to posting photos and videos.

Don’t normalize intrusions into privacy by sharing photos of every moment of your child’s life on social media or posting endless photos without their permission. Recognize that they are their own person and will be very uncomfortable about this lack of control over their own identity in a few years’ time.

Secondly, when your children do take their own photos and videos, encourage them to see these as private moments between friends and question why you would want them to be freely available to strangers. Ask them how they’d feel if someone doctored an image of them or used their photo/face in ways they didn’t agree to.

Final Thoughts: Having the Chat

The internet isn’t going anywhere. Shady characters on the internet aren’t going anywhere. You simply can’t keep your kids wrapped in cotton wool forever.

Monitoring the way they use the internet and preventing them from doing things that expose them to harm might work when they are young, but it’s not something you can do forever. A far more effective strategy is to explain exactly why they need to be careful about their privacy and safety online, to demonstrate what they can do to protect themselves – and to adopt the same kinds of behavior yourself.

The good news is that parents, especially older parents, do seem to be taking this seriously. The survey showed that 90% of parents over 55 have had a chat about online safety with their children. Here, younger parents actually lag behind, with nearly 2 in 5 saying they were yet to have the chat.

Online safety and privacy is a lifelong issue. The right technologies will help you to keep your family secure in the home, but the best way to keep your kids safe is to arm them with the tools and information they need to protect themselves for years to come.

About the Survey

The survey collected responses from 500 parents across a range of different ages, all of whom have children under the age of 18.

Participants were asked about how often their kids go online and what they get up to when they do, what kind of social media accounts their children have and what information they put on these, how closely they (the parents) monitor this internet use, and other questions relating to their children’s safety when online.

The survey didn’t show up any significant differences based on gender – mothers and fathers within the same age group tended to respond in similar ways. However, the answers varied broadly based on age group.

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