American Children More Likely to Have Web Use Monitored

While American youth spend more time online than kids elsewhere do, they are also more likely to have their parents monitor what they see and set limits on where they go, according to research on Internet usage among teens and young adults in 16 countries by Ipsos-Reid.

The study “The Face of the Web: Youth,” examined 10,000 Internet users between the ages of 12 and 24 with home Internet access. Overall, about two-thirds (64 percent) of the respondents said their parents set neither curfews nor time limits, nor monitor or restrict the content of what they see online, either through verbal instructions, or such devices as filtering software programs. Still, the research discovered wildly varying approaches among parents around the world when it comes to supervising Internet usage.


Children Reporting Online
Time Limits/Curfews
Sweden 37%
France 28%
Italy 24%
Netherlands 24%
US 19%
Source: Ipsos-Reid

“European parents seem to have a much more relaxed attitude when it comes to what and how their children see and surf online,” said Ed Morawski, VP of Global Research for Ipsos-Reid in New York. “The European approach to parenting is generally much more open and you can see this behavior online as well. The interesting paradox in North America is that while most parents pay for their kids’ Internet access, they’re far more likely to restrict or monitor what sites they visit. Parents here exhibit both liberal and puritan behaviors. It’s like taking your kid to a candy store, but telling them what to choose.”

In the US, about 40 percent of the respondents report some form of Internet time or content limits, the second-highest level among the 16 countries surveyed. (Kids in the UK reported slightly higher restrictions.) Americans are also much more likely than youth in other countries to have restrictions on what sites they can visit and report that their parents have installed filtering software on their home computers. The 12 to 17 age group face far greater restrictions than do young adults aged 18 to 24. The percentage of teenagers under 17 who report some form of limitation on what they can see jumps to 52 percent, compared to 18 percent for 18 to 24-year olds.

One-in-five (19 percent) Americans between the ages 12 and 24 with home Internet access said that their online activities are limited by filtering software. By contrast, only 4 percent of surveyed youth with home access in France; 3 percent of them in Italy and Sweden; and 2 percent of them in the Netherlands face this same limitation. Nearly 30 percent of American youth also report some form of parental monitoring or restrictions over the sites they visit, compared with only 8 percent of youth in Spain and 10 percent in Sweden.

Software and site censorship isn’t the main area of concern for some parents. Worries also center around the amount of time spent by their kids online. These parents are more likely to be found in Europe, where Internet access fees are generally higher than they are in North America and structured differently (e.g., not flat). This probably explains why American youth are less likely than youth of most other countries to be hindered in terms of time allowed online.

“The concerns of parents in the real world are far from universal,” Morawski said. “Why should their concerns about the online world be any more collective? As much as Internet access may be widespread, different cultures will always prioritize different values and worry about different things. As long as fee structures remain inconsistent around the world, the dissimilarities between European and American online parenting styles will continue.”

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