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Pew Internet & American Life Project Surveys Teens Online

Staff Writer
Published: 2005-03-18

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More than half of American families with teenagers use filters to limit access to potentially harmful online content, a 65% increase from the number of those who used filters in 2000.

But big majorities of both teens and parents believe that teens do things on the internet that their parents would not approve of.

A new survey of 1,100 youth those ages 12 to 17 and 1,100 of their parents shows that 54% of internet-connected families now use some sort of internet filter or monitoring software, up from 41% of internet-connected families who used filters in 2000, the most recent time the Pew Internet & American Life Project surveyed on the issue. 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.

The filters tend to be used by parents who themselves 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.

At the same time, parents are showing higher levels of vigilance about protecting their children online, there is striking consensus among parents and their teens that the teenage population is not as careful as it should be online and that teens do things online their parents don't know about.

*81% of parents of online teens say that teens aren't careful enough when giving out information about themselves online and 79% of online teens agree with this.

*65% of all parents and 64% of all teens say that teens do things online that they wouldn't want their parents to know about.

"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," said Amanda Lenhart, research specialist who wrote the Pew Internet Project's new report, "Protecting Teens Online." "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."

The findings also 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. It required Web sites containing "material harmful to minors" to use some kind of age verification system * such as asking for credit card information * to ensure that site visitors were age 18 or older. 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 case bounced through the court system until last June, when the Supreme Court ruled that the law's constitutionality should be weighed in a full trial in the federal district in Philadelphia and that the ban on enforcement should continue. It is likely that the case will begin later this year. And one of the main issues in the case is whether internet filters can be an effective way to block access to certain Web sites and screen content.

In addition to employing filters, parents are trying other methods to stay abreast of their children's online activities.

73% of online teens say their household computer is located in a public place inside the house.

64% of parents of online teenagers say they set rules about their children's time online.

However, there are still large gaps in perception about how much parent-child monitoring is taking place: 62% of parents report checking up on their child's surfing habits after he or she has gone online, but only 33% of teens who use the internet from home say they believe their parents monitor their online activity.

The Pew Internet Project survey was conducted between October 26 and November 28, 2004. It found that 87% of youth between ages 12 and 17 use the internet, up from 74% of those age 12-17 who said that in a December 2000 survey by the Project. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

The survey also found that bad experiences online keep some teens away from the internet. Some 13% 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.

In the end, weighing all the pluses and minuses, parents believe the internet is a good thing for their children: 67% of parents of online teens believe that overall the internet is a good thing for their child, up from 55% in December 2000. Only 5% of all parents think the internet is a bad thing for their son or daughter.

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