On 15 January 2014, Ofcom, the converged regulator in the UK, published a report on the safety of children on the Internet which takes stock of the current situation regarding children’s use of the World Wide Web. The document also shows a very detailed picture of how British parents perceive parental control tools.
The report is the first of three reports requested by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) on different matters in relation to parental control. Many of the parents participating in the study describe parenting in an Internet age as a really complex challenge against a backdrop of continuing technical evolution. Still, the vast majority of them continue to feel that the benefits of the Internet outweigh the risks, even though half of parents acknowledge that their child knows more about the Internet than they do.
The report concludes that parents are, as a rule, confident in their children’s use of the Internet, even though they are concerned about who their child is in contact with. Parents consider that content related risks are of less concern than contact of conduct related risks. Indeed, close to half of the 12-15s know someone with experience on negative online/mobile phone activity such as online bullying, gossip being spread or embarrassing photos being shared.
In order to prevent this, parents adopt a combination of approaches for staying safe online. These strategies consist in having rules related to parental supervision, regularly talking to their children about staying safe online and/or mediation through technical tools. Unfortunately, 15% of parents are using none of the above-mentioned strategies.
According to the report, service providers can also contribute to children’s online safety in two ways: by applying filtering tools at a point of access and by establishing service-specific safety measures. The report emphasises that while content filtering is a valuable tool, it should be used by parents in combination with other tools and mechanisms because it is insufficient to protect children from harmful content online.
The last section of the report examines why many parents choose not to apply parental control tools and comes to the conclusion that the lack of awareness and understanding of parental controls are a key reason. Many parents are still out of touch with new technologies and strain to reach the development of “digital natives”.