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December 15, 2009

[berkman] Sahara Byrne on Kids v. Parents

Sahara Byrne, from the Dept. of Communication at Cornell U., is giving a Tuesday Berkman lunch, titled “Parent versus Child: Reports of Internet Behaviors and Support for Strategies to Prevent Negative Effects of Online Exposure.”

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

Sahara looks at strategies to deal with the negative effects of the Net on kids, and how to maximize positive. She’s especially interested in when these strategies go wrong. For example, when do kids resist these strategies?

She begins with the information theory drawing (from Claude Shannon) that depicts a message passing through a channel, interrupted by noise. She’s interested in when we explicitly and deliberately disrupt communication, e.g., by filters, rules, policies.

We adults tend to perceive the Net as raising problems for kids: predators, porn, privacy, peers, and piracy. We have a wide range of strategies. (Last year, the Berkman Center had a conference about the Internet Safety Task Force, convened by attorneys general from 49 states (not Texas). Sahara was there.)

The worst possible strategy: One that the parents love but the kids hate. Whether parents like these strategies depend upon how those strategies match with their values.

Sahara has lots of data, from an Internet survey of 456 parents and matched child pairs (10-17). She asked the parents “How much would you support…” and the kids “How would you feel if your parent…” What individual differences lead people to support different strategies. She also asked what kids were doing on line and what the kids think they’re parents know about what and how much they’re doing on line. “Do the parents have any clue?”

She plots how much parents support a strategy, how much kids do, and the difference. There are few that the kids like more. She looks at various classes of strategies.

Gov’t policy strategies: The site watches what you do; the kids hate that, the parents like it.

There are big gaps in technology strategies as well; e.g., suppose your parents could record everything you do on line. The bigger the difference, the more likely the child will try to get around the strategy.

User/Child Empowerment. Kids and parents like these ideas much better, e.g., ratings, education, peer education about sites. “Kids were not resistant to these because these give them control.”

Parental access. Huge differences. Parents really like having access to all the kids’ passwords, but the kids really really don’t like that.

Co-viewing (i.e., have the computer in a public place in the home). Parents like these. Kids are pretty neutral about this.

Legal ramifications. Kids like the idea of suspending from school other kids who are mean; their parents like it less.

Parenting style predicts agreements and disagreements about how useful they find these strategies. Strict parenting predicts disagreement. Highly communicative styles predicts agreement, except on tech strategies, possibly because those kids are used to being trusted, so having the tech lock them out feels wrong, Sahara says.

The value system also predicts some differences. More conservative parents like gov’t control of the content.

Religion also predicted differences in many of the strategies. The more religious the parents, the less likely the kids were to agree.

So, what might work best? Empowering kids to protect themselves, and (to her surprise) putting more of the onus on gov’t and industry. What’s risk? Kids don’t want to be watched or give away their passwords, especially in authoritarian households.

Sahara now reports on data on what kids actually do online, and what their parents think they do. Kids do their homework, as parents expect. But kids seek personal health info much less than the parents think. And parents overestimate by 100% how much time kids spend on line doing “identity development.” (The question for the kids is “How often do you use the Internet to figure out who you really are?”) Parents unerestimate their kids have been cyberbullied (“been mean to”). They do understand how often they’re upset by an IM. About 50% of kids say that they’ve accidentally come across sexual text or images, while parents think that happens to about 30%. 20% say they’ve looked for sex. 17% of kids say they’ve been approached by a “weird stranger”; parents say 8% of kids have.

Next: predicting “clueless parents” and parenting parental support (in a study of 1,800 parents).

[I’m having trouble hearing some of the questions over the projectors’ fans. Sorry.]

A: Income doesn’t predict differences except in gov’t/industry variables.

Q: What does “weird strangers” mean to the kids? Does it include non-threatening spammers, etc.?
A: [danahboyd] A huge number have encountered strategies, but the fear factor is extremely low. E.g., a sketchy profile in a friend request from a scammer; kids put in the “weird stranger” bucket but they don’t see it as dangerous. The ones kids worry about tend to be weird strangers who repeat.

Q: It looks like on average kids don’t want much protecting.

Q: Of course, to apply this data for deciding on policies, you’d also have to decide how circumventable these strategies are.
A: Yes. I’m interested in the factors that predict support for these strategies.

A: Kids who report it’s easy to talk with their parents are less likely to disagree with their parents about the strategies. It may be that the conversation makes them more similar to their parents.

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