Survey: Families Wise up to Importance of Online Safety

Children admit sneaking in more time online than their parents know about, but families overall are getting more savvy about Internet safety, according to a new survey commissioned by Symantec.

Symantec's second annual Norton Online Living Report surveyed 9,000 adults and children in the U.S., Canada, U.K., France, Germany, Italy, Sweden, China, Japan, India, Australia and Brazil, asking a series of queries about their online habits.

In perhaps one of the most telling signs of increasing parental monitoring, one in five children admitted getting caught doing something their parents didn't approve of, although the survey doesn't define exactly what sort of activities.

Parents are using a variety of methods to get better tabs on the online use of their children. The U.K., for example, has the highest usage of software to control Internet use, such as blacklisting certain Web sites or limiting the amount of time a child can be online. Last year, one in five kids admitted they did something inappropriate online.

Other parents are opting to join their kids' circle of friends on social networks such as MySpace and Facebook, said Marian Merritt, Internet safety advocate for Symantec. The move adds a virtual "parent in the room," causing kids to reflect more about appropriate use of those sites, she said.

On one hand, kids could perceive that as a blatant form of spying, said Mo Shapiro, a relationship psychologist based in Northhampton, England, who reviewed the report. Shapiro said she heard of an incident of a child who was uncomfortable adding her mother's friend as a social-networking buddy.

But that's the fine line that parents must walk -- establishing rules but maintaining trust and respecting their kids' privacy, Shapiro said.

Over the last year, several phenomena as well as government interest have brought Internet safety into focus. Cyberbullying incidents, so-called "sexting" or the sending of explicit images or messages, the loss of jobs over photos posted on social networks have all propelled parents to educate their kids, Merritt said.

Parents often underestimate the amount of time of time children spend online. Kids in the U.K. said they actually spent 43.5 hours per month online, far more than the 18.8 hours their parents thought.

Some children also maintained that their parents often do not know what they're looking at online. Eighty-six percent of parents surveyed in Australia felt they always knew what their kids were looking at online, but only 65 percent of Australian youths agreed. That gap was the largest among the 12 countries surveyed.

The survey did show a level of agreement about how text and instant messages and other short forms of contact are contributing to a decline in language skills. Sixty-three percent of parents felt online messaging makes it harder for kids to learn to write well; half of kids agreed.

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