‘Policing children’s Web surfing may backfire’

The snooping can have an opposite effect.

Computer keyboard [illustrative]. (photo credit: ING IMAGE/ASAP)
Computer keyboard [illustrative].
(photo credit: ING IMAGE/ASAP)
Parents worried about dangers to their children from their Internet surfing who intrusively monitor their web activities may actually increase their risky online behavior.
The snooping can have an opposite effect, Prof. Gustavo Mesch and doctoral student Hagit Sasson at the University of Haifa research’s sociology and anthropology department suggested on Thursday.
“It seems that during adolescence, during which teens are seeking ways to achieve autonomy, overly restrictive monitoring actually motivates them to seek ways to circumvent the supervision,” the researchers said.
Children’s unsupervised Internet use worries many parents, who fear they will disclose personal information on public forums and reveal personal feelings to people they do not know, or even have face-to-face meetings with strangers.
The study included 495 children aged 10 to 18 (6th to 11th grades). The researchers examined parental efforts to cope with their children’s Internet use, and compared them to the teenagers’ perception of their peer group’s social norms.
Parental efforts were divided into three categories: Mediation through supervision, which includes the installation of software that blocks sites, records that sites were visited, or limits the time spent online; mediation through guidance, in which parents attempted to explain the risks posed by the Internet, provided help in using the Internet, suggested ways to use the Internet safely and helped their children when something bothered them online; and nonintervention.
The more aggressive “supervision” approach led to the worst results: The more frequently that parents used this approach, the more their children would engage in risky online behavior.
There was no link, positive or negative, between the other two approaches and risky Internet use.
In families that were cohesive and demonstrated strong emotional bonding, teens were less likely to engage in risky Internet behavior, it was also found.
“These are not exactly two sides of the same coin, but the patterns are certainly clear,” the researchers stated. “Supervisory behavior, which can be linked to a lack of trust in the child, will lead to an increase in unsafe behavior. In contrast, as has been found by other studies, families that knew how to establish a relationship of trust among family members reduced risky behavior.”
The strongest influence on risky online behavior was what the adolescents’ friends thought of such behavior. The more the youngsters thought that their friends approved of precarious online behavior, the more they themselves would engage in such behavior.
“It’s possible that this is an example of self-persuasion,” the researchers said. “Someone who behaves dangerously online is liable to convince himself that as far as his friends are concerned, it’s okay.”
As is already known from previous studies, the researchers found that boys are more likely to be involved in risky online behavior than girls.
They also found that more boys than girls visited chat rooms and online forums, which increased the chances of them being exposed to online threats, since these are platforms that invite interaction with strangers. The only gender-based difference noticed with regard to parental behavior was that parents were more likely to mediate their daughters’ Internet use with guidance than their sons, the researchers said.