Parenting is never easy. But today’s parents have to grapple with technology in a way that no previous generation did.

A new study by the Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) has found that most parents, 78 percent of those surveyed, think that technology will have a generally positive effect on their children’s futures, careers and life skills. But many are still grappling with figuring out how — or if — they should limit their children’s tech use. Many, for example, said they worry that as their kids use more technology, they are not as physically active.

The FOSI study sketches out more details about how parents are dealing with that consumption. Although 87 percent of parents say they have rules for their children’s technology use, the kinds of rules they set vary widely. For example, 19 percent of parents limit their kids to five hours of tech use or less per week. A little more than one-third, 35 percent, set no limits at all.

Meanwhile, only 36 percent use parental controls, with many saying they don’t see the need to because they trust their children’s judgment and other household rules to keep things in hand. About 3 of 4 parents said they have taken away or limited access to the Web as a punishment for bad grades, breaking rules or other bad behaviors.

But there was also a slight dip in the number of parents who said they feel they have a handle on what their children are up to online. And 55 percent said that they let a child under 12 open a social-networking account – something that is allowed only for children 13 and up.

“That’s a rather challenging figure,” said FOSI Executive Director Stephen Balkam, whose organization designed the Good Digital Parenting initiative to educate parents about how to deal with this brave new world. Organizations like his, he said, as well as technology firms and the government must do more to educate parents about exploiting the benefits – and avoiding the dangers – of the online world.

“Everyone has different but overlapping responsibilities,” he said.

The challenge of educating parents is exacerbated by the fact that the technology is changing so quickly. Facebook is just shy of 11 years old. The iPhone has been around for eight years. (Were either of those products human, they wouldn’t technically be allowed to have their own social-networking profiles.) And the iPad, which kicked off a tablet revolution, is just five years old – yet 70 percent of households with children under 12 say their kids are using tablets.

Parents themselves are still struggling with how they manage their technology use, let alone their children’s behavior. When it came to how well they modeled good technological behavior, parents gave themselves an average grade of B – as in, there’s room for improvement.

Several parents told researchers that they know they could be putting their own phones down more frequently, whether it’s taking a break from social media or curbing tech use behind the wheel. “I know people are watching, like my son,” one parent of a teenager said of not picking up the phone at red lights.

“You could argue that this study was not just about kids’ technology use, but also parents’,” Balkam said. Younger parents, as you may expect, say they feel they have a better handle on their children’s tech use than older ones. Jennifer Hanley, FOSI’s director of legal and policy, said that, anecdotally, she has heard that grandparents raising their grandchildren feel the least aware of what’s happening; millennial parents are the most confident.

But even tech-savvy parents have their “oops” moments. One telling stat: Ten percent of parents with social-media accounts said that their children have asked them to take something down from Facebook.

Balkam said that despite the pitfalls that parents may face, he is an “eternal optimist” about parents being able to handle whatever new technology throws at them. For example, he noted that 55 percent of parents say they often use technology with their children. Nearly as many have learned something about their smartphone or tablet from their kids.

Hanley said more parents are working to make technology use a positive experience in their homes. “That’s important for us: Those parents are allowing online exploration, but it’s safe and fun.”


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