New Research Explores Parents' and Teens' Attitudes Toward Parental Controls

November 18, 2020

Washington, DC -- A new report released by the Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) explores the current landscape of parental control offerings, and the attitudes and uptake of the parents who use them. The study, Tools for Today’s Digital Parents, also polled teens on their own perceptions of how these tools impact their online lives.  

Notably, parents are divided across generational lines when it comes to how they view the responsibility of keeping kids safe online. 57% of Baby Boomer parents believe that “most responsibility” lies with parents, in contrast with 43% of Generation X parents, and only 30% of Millennial parents. In younger parents, there is a shift towards the concept of shared responsibility for kids’ online safety - between schools, communities, content creators and the wider media and tech industries. 

This divide is also reflected in parents’ top concerns. Baby Boomer parents showed the most concern over external, existential threats such as online predators. Gen X parents have the greatest concern over the content their children are watching. Millennial parents tend to have more concerns over social media interactions, including the possibility of their own child being the perpetrator of bad behavior online. 

“We found it fascinating that Millennial parents, having grown up with technology for a much larger part of their lives, have such a different viewpoint,” said Stephen Balkam, CEO of FOSI. “We were also intrigued that young people’s attitudes toward broader ‘online safety tools’ were much more positive than the stricter connotation of ‘parental controls.’” 

Parents recognize the importance of nearly all the standard online safety tools provided by tech companies, particularly the ability to block mature content, receive usage reports, approve a child’s app downloads, and set screen time restrictions. Their responses also referenced the overwhelm that many parents feel when it comes to the volume of resources and tools available.

Key findings from a consumer viewpoint, highlighting the potential opportunities for simplifying and consolidating parental guidance, included:

  • Although house rules are more common, 79% of parents have used a type of digital tool in the form of in-app solutions, parental controls, safety features, privacy settings or digital usage restrictions.
  • 86% of parents confirmed a willingness to pay for usage reporting.
  • 4 out of 5 parents are interested in or already paying for controls at the router level.
  • Two-thirds of parents are generally unsatisfied with the tools they have to keep kids safe online.
  • Online search results are the most popular method for researching online safety tools; parents only go directly to media brands and platform sources about one-third of the time.
  • 76% of parents give themselves high marks for their online safety discussions with their kids.
  • The idea of a “one-stop shop” for researching and learning about parental controls has a universal appeal to parents; two-thirds of parents with kids aged 7-11 “very interested” in this concept. 

“This study is an invaluable opportunity to hear from a broad and diverse group of parents and teens about what we are doing well, and where we have work to do, in the area of parental controls,” said Ethan Arenson, Head of Digital Safety at Verizon. “We look forward to applying the lessons learned as we develop the next generation of online safety tools.”

For families generally, digital parenting is an evolution of trust. 76% of parents give themselves high marks for success when it comes to discussing online safety issues with their child. The teens who participated in this study shared that they feel safe with what they’ve been taught and the rules that have been put in place for them, although there were also reports of “occasional” instances of attempting to circumvent or negotiate rules. 

This study was supported by Verizon, and conducted by Magid. Key data will be presented by Magid at FOSI’s virtual 2020 Annual Conference, Building Resilience, followed by a wider panel analysis by leading industry, parenting, and academic experts.

The conference will convene leaders from across industry, government, academia, and the nonprofit sector to discuss a wide spectrum of topics including technology policy, privacy, digital parenting, virtual learning and the importance of creating quality content for kids. The agenda will include a reflective look back at the year of 2020 and the impacts of COVID-19 on digital wellbeing, as well as the implications of the US election. The event will also feature special guest Monica Lewinsky, anti-bullying activist and global public speaker, who will discuss digital civility and resilience in a fireside chat, “Creating a More Compassionate Internet.” 


Emily Mulder