Children Surfing Unattended

By the age of 12, most children are free to log onto the Internet with little or no parental supervision, according to a national study of families with Internet access.

The study, conducted by Greenfield Online, found that 75 percent of parents in online households allow their children to surf the Web in their home.

Greenfield’s research also found that while most families take a strict approach to monitoring the Internet access for children under the age of 11, once they reach age 12, most are allowed to go online whenever they feel like it. In families with kids under age 11, 85 percent of parents oversee each and every click. But among families with children age 16, only 5 percent of parents take steps toward monitoring online activities.

Despite the availability of Internet filtering software and parental control services, only 20 percent of parents use these tools to control what kids are doing online, according to Greenfield.

The Net also grabs the attention of the very young. According to Greenfield Online, 14 percent of the children online are age 5 or younger.

There were also some surprises in Greenfield’s findings. Twenty percent of parents with children age 11 to 18 said the Internet grabs more of their children’s time than television. Nearly 55 percent of kids age 11 and over use the Internet for school work, Greenfield found.

“We were amazed that half of today’s online kids were doing school work on the Web. But with parents no longer monitoring just exactly where homework ends and other activities begin, it stands to reason some of these kids have a lot of freedom to research other less appropriate subjects as well,” said Brin Bell, a VP at Greenfield Online. “Now that 97 million Americans have access to the Internet, the Net is definitely changing family life. When kids and adults start saying that the Internet is more important to them than TV, you know it’s going to impact our culture.”

Greenfield’s findings were part of its NetStyles study, which asks 1,350 online Americans questions such as who in the family has access, what they do online, and how parents monitor children’s activities.

Other findings from Greenfield’s February research include:

  • Adults ranked the Internet second and TV third as their most important communications tool behind the telephone. This was slightly more accurate for men than women.
  • Three-quarters use email to make or rekindle friendships
  • More than 80 percent think email is the best way to keep in touch with out-of-town friends
  • More than half use email to get daily news, stock market, and newsgroup updates
  • Half are spending more than one hour a week at home sending and receiving email
  • For 90 percent, the use of search engines is the No.1 activity other than email
  • 58 percent have shopped online in the past month.

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