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

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

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

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.

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