RealTime IT News

Parents Tightening Reins on Teens' Web Access

More than half of Internet-connected families with teenagers use some sort of filter or monitoring software to limit access to potentially harmful online content, according to a new Pew Internet & American Life Project report.

According to the report, the filters tend to be used by parents who are frequent users of the Internet and who have middle-school-age children. Parents who have older children and who are less tech-savvy are less likely to use filters.

In all, about 19 million youth live in homes with Internet connections, and the number of children living in homes with filters has grown from 7 million in 2000 to 12 million today.

Despite the use of the filters by 54 percent of Internet families, however, large majorities of parents and their teens believe that teens do things on the Internet that their parents don't know about, according to the report.

"The age-old struggle between parents who want to protect their children and teens who want to assert their independence and venture into 'forbidden' realms is playing out in new ways online," Amanda Lenhart, a research specialist who wrote the new report, said in a statement. "Both sides agree that no matter how hard parents try, online teens are going to do things they know their parents won't like and that many will be a bit too careless about what they disclose online."

Of those parents who use filters or monitoring software, 62 percent report checking up on their child's surfing habits after the child has gone online, but only 33 percent of the teens surveyed thought their online use was being monitored.

In addition to filters and monitoring software, the Pew report says parents also attempt to keep up with what their children are doing online by keeping the family computer in a public place in the home and setting rules about their children's time online.

The survey also found that bad experiences online keep some teens away from the Internet. Some 13 percent of youth between the ages of 12 and 17 -- about 3 million teens -- do not use the Internet and about a tenth of them report being offline because they had bad experiences, they face parental restrictions or because they do not feel safe online.

The Pew findings come at a time when a federal court is about to consider a lawsuit against the federal Child Online Protection Act (COPA), which was passed in 1998. Under the provisions of COPA, Web sites containing "material harmful to minors" must use some sort of age verification system to ensure that site visitors are 18 years or older.

However, the law has never been enforced since the American Civil Liberties Union and other civil rights groups sued the government, arguing that COPA is an unconstitutional infringement on the free speech and privacy rights of adults.

The Supreme Court has ordered the case back to the Philadelphia federal court for a full trial on the constitutionality of COPA. One of the key issues in the case is whether Internet filters are an effective way to block access to certain Web sites or content.