Parental Internet Mediation strategies. What works?

A recent study tested how different parental mediating strategies affect children’s disclosure of private information while online (Lwin, Stanaland, & Miyazaki, 2008).  Privacy is a critical issue facing not just children, but also adults, but youth may not have the understanding that the Internet allows almost any digital use to leave a permanent footprint. The authors manipulated website safeguards and parental mediation strategies to measure how children, age 10-12 and age 13-17, would choose to share personal information.  One condition had a website safeguard present, while another did not.  Two primary kinds of parental mediation were chosen, regulated and active.  Parents who practice regulated mediation, also referred to as rule making, set limits on screen time as well as content.  Parents who practice active mediation, also referred to as instructive, explain salient aspects of the content to their children, giving it meaning and context, thus in effect, scaffolding their child’s informal learning.  For the 10-12 age group, four different measures of these mediation strategies were used to capture real life parenting practices, laissez faire or no mediation, restrictive or regulated only, protective or active only, and selective or both types.  For the older age groups, the selective condition was dropped.  Their dependent variable was the child’s willingness to disclose sensitive personal information.

For the preteens, the web safeguards led to less disclosure, for all conditions except selective where it did not make a difference if web safeguards were used. The most effective strategy was active parental mediation combined with website safeguards.  The older children were separated into two groups, 13-14 and 15-17 year olds.  For the younger group, website safeguards operated in the same manner as for the 10-12 year olds, and the laissez faire strategy was less effective than the restrictive strategy.  The protective condition was the most effective parental mediation strategy, and in this condition the website safeguards provided nearly no additional protective factors.  By contrast for the older adolescents, the website safeguards did not help.  In fact, children disclosed more information when the safeguards were present than when they were not present, thus undermining their effectiveness.  And for older children, the restrictive parenting strategy was actually less effective than laissez faire, children in this condition, in particular those with the website safeguard present, disclosed significantly more information than children in any other condition.  For all children at all ages, parenting strategy was a more important influence than website safeguard in affecting how much information children chose to disclose.  The authors also suggest that while website safeguards act as a deterrent for younger children, as children get older, they may actually act as an enticement.

first posted on parenting in the digital age.

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