Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Kids Are Online (The Parents Are On Edge)

My husband and I don't worry about problems with our iPhones, iPad or laptops anymore. You know why? Because we have a digital native in the family, a self-taught cyber-savvy young woman who can troubleshoot blindfolded with her hands tied behind her back.

Our teenage daughter doesn't wait for us to ask for her help either. She jumps in and rights our wrongs even while we are blissfully unaware of them ...

"You should turn the screen brightness down to save your battery."

"You need to close out the apps you just used or they stay open under your homepage."

"You can post more than one picture at a time you know."

"Blah blah blah."

Suffice it to say, the doctor may be in but her bedside manner leaves something to be desired. Nevertheless, it's nice to have an in-house expert.

However, while our frantic calls to "tech support" and "The Geek Squad" have diminished, we face new worries every day. At fifteen, our daughter is growing up faster than we can comprehend. As a freshman in high school, she has more autonomy, more freedom and more responsibility than ever before. We used to have a strict "No electronics after 8 pm" rule. That just isn't feasible anymore.

She's still doing homework — much of it online — after 10.

When the sun goes down, my imagination lights up. How many stalkers, cyber bullies, identity thieves and privacy-busting data miners will my daughter encounter online tonight?

And, even if she doesn't run into any of these bad Internet elements, what is she herself posting? Will her pictures, tweets and status updates be seen by guidance counselors? College admissions officers? Employers? Supreme Court nomination committees?

Agh. I need a glass of pinot grigio, stat.

They say, "Misery loves company." I assume that holds true for "Anxiety" as well. The Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard, along with the Pew Internet Project, just released a study called “Parents, Teens and Online Privacy.”

The study included phone surveys of 802 parents and their 802 teens ages 12-17 across the country, as well as focus groups of another 120 students. The results are remarkably similar to the conversations I have with other mothers at Starbucks. But, I guess these are a bit more statistically valid:

• 81% of parents of online teens say they are concerned about how much information advertisers can learn about their child’s online behavior, with some 46% being “very” concerned.

• 72% of parents of online teens are concerned about how their child interacts online with people they do not know, with some 53% of parents being “very” concerned.

• 69% of parents of online teens are concerned about how their child’s online activity might affect their future academic or employment opportunities, with some 44% being “very” concerned about that.

• 69% of parents of online teens are concerned about how their child manages his or her reputation online, with some 49% being “very” concerned about that.

There is additional information about actions taken by parents to protect their teens. The most telling is a sharp increase in the number of parents jumping into social media themselves:

• 66% of all parents who have a child between the ages of 12-17, say they use a social networking site, up from 58% in 2011. 

So, my net net on all this? I was most surprised to learn that more parents are concerned about advertisers tracking their teens' behavior than about strangers. That's a switch, I think, from the frightening headlines we were bombarded with a few years ago.

And (I'm embarrassed to confess), even though I run a direct marketing ad agency that lives and breathes data, it didn't occur to me that my daughter is rapidly building her own online profile that might be used — or abused — by marketers.

Crap!  Something else to obsess about.

Please pass the pinot.

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