Despite Concerns about Content, Screen Time, and Online Security, New Research Reveals the Internet Improves Communication and Quality of Life across Generations

November 14, 2018

Online safety still a top concern for seniors; parents feel the Internet has made their lives easier

A new study released by the Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) examines the online attitudes of parents and seniors, highlighting the benefits and challenges of intergenerational technology use. The report, “Online Safety Across the Generations,” investigates behaviors of connected families, with 57% of parents citing that technology has improved communication in their family.

For parents, top concerns focused on the content kids access, notably surpassing concerns over screen time. For seniors who reported connecting to the Internet, a multitude expressed worries about Internet safety and security.

Overall, the study showed a cyclical nature to how generations interact with and learn about technology. While dynamics and specific challenges vary by age range, respondents showed a strong consensus that digital activities have a positive impact on their lives and family communication. Parents of connected children are nearly twice as likely to feel technology and the Internet have made their job as a parent easier rather than harder. Findings also indicated that families rely on each other as a main resource for online safety and understood the major role they play in supporting digital wellbeing.

When asked what worried them more, 64% of parents felt that the content their child accessed online was more concerning, compared to just 32% who worried more about the amount of time their child spends online. Only one in three parents reported feeling satisfied with the control they had over both content and time spent online.

Among seniors polled, 80% reported going online. Of this group, large majorities reported fears of identity theft, viruses and malware, and financial hacking. While more than nine in 10 seniors report taking at least one technical step to protect their personal information online, far fewer feel confident that they are doing all they can to protect their privacy. The 20% of seniors who reported that they do NOT go online stated that it was due to little interest in getting connected, and concerns about the online world.

Despite these concerns, both generations felt that technology had enhanced family communication, and notable proportions said that parents and elderly relatives draw on a variety of technologies to communicate with children and grandchildren. When it comes to understanding technology and navigating the digital world, seniors trust the advice of family above all others.

“It’s very encouraging to see intergenerational technology use bringing families together,” said Stephen Balkam, CEO of FOSI. “While there are still many unique safety and security challenges for both parents and seniors, these results show an overall positive impact on daily life and family connection.”

The study also includes intentional oversample interviews among minority and low-income populations, highlighting key differences in technology use and attitudes across different groups.

Notable differences between socioeconomic and minority groups include:

  • African-American (66%), Hispanic (61%) and Millennial (62%) parents are the most likely to use technology together with their children.
  • Hispanic (72%) and African-American (70%) parents say that they discuss online safety with their children more often than white parents (59%).
  • The 20% of seniors who are not online are, on average, appreciably older, less white, less educated, and lower income than those who are online.
  • Low-income parents are just as likely to say their child has access to a smartphone (91%) as are parents overall (91%), and just as many say their child has his or her own smartphone (53% of low-income parents, 54% of all parents). When it comes to children having their own laptop, the gap is most pronounced between low-income parents (32%) and upper-income parents with household incomes over $100,000 (53%).

“This research affirms that once a family, regardless of income, has connected to the Internet at home, the entire family benefits from its transformative technology” said David L. Cohen, Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer of Comcast Corporation. “Through our Internet Essentials program, which helps connect low-income families to the Internet, we know that online safety concerns are a major barrier to broadband adoption. We are grateful for the opportunity to have partnered on this research, building on our commitment to making online safety a key pillar of our Internet Essentials program.”

Results from the study will be presented today in Washington, DC at the Family Online Safety Institute’s Annual Conference, “Creating a Culture of Responsibility Online.” As the premier online safety event of the year, FOSI convenes leaders from industry, government, law enforcement and non-profits to collaborate on new solutions to global Internet safety challenges. Topics reflect the most debated technology issues including online privacy, content moderation, digital parenting and screen time, and the ethics of emerging technologies. Notable speakers will include Federal Trade Commissioner Noah Phillips, the eSafety Commissioner of Australia Julie Inman Grant, high-level representatives from India and the EU, and industry experts on gaming, innovation, social media, education, and more. The Annual Conference will also feature First Lady of the United States Melania Trump in conversation with four teens about youth initiatives to prevent cyberbullying and promote civility.

This research was made possible by the support of the Comcast Innovation Fund and Comcast’s Internet Essentials Program, and conducted by Hart Research Associates. The study reflects quantitative data as well as qualitative data from focus groups of parents and seniors in Pennsylvania. The quantitative findings are based on data from national surveys conducted by telephone among 701 American seniors aged 62 and older, as well as an online parent survey of 673 parents with children aged 2-17. Both surveys included oversamples of African-American, Hispanic, and low-income households.

To watch the FOSI Annual Conference, view via livestream here or follow along online with #fosi2018.