Parental Patrol of the Cyber World

Internet safety education best taught by parents with the support of educators and healthcare providers

(RxWiki News) Internet is everywhere. With some strange, harmful things that can be lurking online, kids could be accessing that, too. Who should teach our young ones how to be safe in the cyber world?

Parents were named by several groups as the number one educator for teaching kids about internet safety, a recently published study found.

The researchers also said that clinicians also have the chance to back up parents' efforts with support, resources and guidance.

"Have a talk with your kids about online expectations."

Megan Moreno, from the School of Medicine and Public Health at the University of Wisconsin, led a study into the age at which Internet safety education should be taught to children to maximize their safety, as well as who should be in charge of teaching the safety education.

The study included 356 participants comprised of adolescents, parents, public school teachers and clinicians who were considered key stakeholders in youth safety education.

Between July 2009 and August 2011, participants were asked about the age at which they felt safety education should begin and their experiences teaching and learning about internet safety.

The stakeholders felt that the average optimal age to begin teaching internet safety is when children are about 7 years old, the researchers found. The optimal age ranged between 2 and 15 years of age.

The researchers said that the wide range in suggested ages to begin teaching online safety might be because children are being introduced to computers at younger ages.

Internet safety was taught regularly by more than 40 percent of parents. Almost 21 percent of teachers and less than 3 percent of clinicians taught Internet safety.

About 3 out of 4 adolescents ranked their parents as the first choice in who should teach about online safety.

Another 14 percent and 6 percent ranked teachers and law enforcement, respectively, as first choice. Adolescents also ranked churches and community last as their first choices.

Though parents may guide their children's "digital lives," some may feel less than prepared for the task of instructing their children, according to the researchers.

Pediatricians who see adolescent patients have the opportunity to serve an important and perhaps familiar role, the researchers said.

"Thus, healthcare providers and public health educators may have an unique opportunity to support parents by providing resources, guidance and support," the researchers wrote in their report. "As with many other topics of health supervision including safety, nutrition and fitness, parents are the primary source of education for their children."

The researchers also found that the majority of teachers, parents and clinicians were willing to teach internet safety. At the same time, each of the groups surveyed felt that parents were most responsible for teaching their children about this subject.

The authors noted they did not survey community groups and churches that may also be interested in providing internet safety education. The data that was collected was self-reported, which might have been overestimated or subject to recall bias.

In addition, the authors also did not investigate the best methods to provide Internet safety education, nor did they specify whether cell phones, texting and other technologies should be included in the safety-teaching curriculum.

The study was published online June 5 in the journal BMC Public Health. Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development funded the study, and no conflicts of interest were declared.

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Review Date: 
June 8, 2013