Parents Souring on the Internet?

Released: 17-Dec-2010 9:00 AM EST
Source Newsroom: University of Southern California
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Newswise — If you think similarities in the Internet and television are growing, parents may be inclined to agree with you. Parents are rapidly coming to view TV and the Web in similar ways, applying supervisory approaches to both mediums, according to a new survey by the Center for the Digital Future, at the Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism at the University of Southern California.

In a worrisome trend, the Center also reports in its 2010 survey that an increasing percentage of parents say Internet access at home is reducing their children’s in-person time with friends.

Researchers at the Center report parents are now limiting their children’s Internet access and television use in nearly identical ways. Three in five American households restrict television use as a punishment, a figure that’s hardly budged over the past decade. Restricting children’s Internet use as a form of punishment has steadily increased over the years and is now a practice in 57 percent of the nation’s homes with children under 18.

The new survey also shows, however, that parents are still more comfortable about the amount of time their children spend on the Internet v. television, with 69 percent saying it was just about right (v. 57 percent for television); only 28 percent thought their children spent too much time on the Internet, against 41 percent who thought television time was excessive.

Michael Gilbert, author of The Disposable Male and a senior fellow at the Center, also points to a steady increase over the years in parental reports of (their) children spending less time in person with friends since gaining access to the Internet. Seven percent of households with children under 18 registered this concern when the Center’s surveys began in 2000, a figure that increased to eleven percent, a decade later.

Its most recent surveys also confirm the Center’s earlier report of a sharp drop off in family face-to-face time in Internet-connected households, starting in 2007. From an average of 26 hours per week during the first half of the decade, family face time had fallen to just under 18 hours per week by 2010.

Gilbert, whose work at the Center is focused on gender and family issues, believes online community involvements are playing a significant role in reducing family time. He points to Center surveys which, since 2006, indicate roughly half of those involved with an online community value it as highly as their real world ones.

“With all the digital diversions out there, it’s hard to pin this on any one thing” says Gilbert, but he believes Americans’ growing attachment to social networks, and the increased time they often demand, has clearly begun to displace family face time. “We need to make sure families are reinforced rather than weakened in the digital future.”

Dr. Jeffrey Cole, the Center’s director, says recent expressions of parental disenchantment with the Internet confirm the Center’s earlier predictions. He notes that, while families have traditionally turned technological advances, such as the telephone and television, to their advantage, the interactive demands of digital technologies and social networking threaten to put inordinate stress on the modern family.

The Center for the Digital Future telephone and web-based survey of 1,926 Americans over the age of 12 was conducted in April 2010 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.

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Through findings developed in annual surveys conducted among approximately 2,000 American households, the Digital Future Project provides a broad year-to-year exploration of the influence of the Internet and online technology on Americans by examining the behavior and views of a broad national sample of Internet users and non-users.

The USC Annenberg Center for the Digital Future (www.digitalcenter.org) also created and organizes the World Internet Project, which conducts similar surveys and studies in thirty-four countries around the world.

Located in Los Angeles at the University of Southern California, the USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism (annenberg.usc.edu) is among the nation’s leading institutions devoted to the study of journalism and communication, and their impact on politics, culture and society.


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