On March 29th, the Family Online Safety Institute hosted a briefing featuring key trends and statistics from its most recent research survey, Online Safety Across the Generations. The 2018 report surveyed both parents and seniors about online safety and the concerns and benefits of using technology with their family, with oversampling among African-American, Latino, and low income families. The research was conducted by Hart Research Associates and supported by Comcast.
Patricia Vance, FOSI’s Chair and President of the Entertainment Software Rating Board introduced the event, thanking Senator Gillibrand for sponsoring the event venue. Vance introduced Online Safety Across the Generations, highlighting the current generation of adults who are teaching both their children and their own parents about online safety.
Trinity Thorpe-Lubneuski, Internet Essentials, Comcast, gave a research overview presentation and discussed Internet Essentials, a broadband adoption program that provides low cost Internet access, digital literacy resources, and low cost computers to low income families around the nation. Internet Essentials has reached six million people and addresses barriers to technology such as literacy and relevance.
Among connected seniors, the top concern about being online was identity theft. To combat this, 93% of online seniors have taken at least one step to protect their personal information online such as using strong passwords. Further, this study found that most seniors seek the help of their adult family members when having problems with technology, rather than tech support or community resources.
The second half of the study focused on parents of children age 2-17, with most reporting that technology makes parenting easier. Parents felt this way because technology helps with homework, keeps children entertained, and increases access to information. However, 28% of parents felt that technology makes their job harder. Even with this, parents still believe overall in the positive effects of technology use on their child’s life and only report a few negative impacts such as physical fitness levels and attention span issues.
There is one major concern that parents have in the digital age: content. 64% of parents feel worried about the things their child sees or hears when online. Another top concern is the amount of time that children spend online with 32% of parents citing this.
Despite concerns that parents have, the surveyed adults acknowledge that technology brings their family together. 57% see better communication within their family and eight in ten adults use technology to communicate with their elderly parents.
Thorpe-Lubneuski stated that Online Safety Across the Generations provides a complete picture of the challenges adults face while parenting their digital children and assisting their elderly parents. This survey provides industry with the ability to create products and programs to alleviate concerns.
Following the research presentation, Stephen Balkam of FOSI moderated a panel featuring Tony Williams, Comcast NBCUniversal; Rosa Mendoza, ALLvanza; and Michael Phillips, AARP. The panel provided commentary on the 2018 research report as well as the specific challenges that seniors, Latinos, and low-income communities face.
Each panelist agreed that a key takeaway from the report was the emergence of fear and distrust as an obstacle to getting online. All cited the need to better educate less connected users so they can benefit from being online.
The panelists shared what they thought made the current demographic of modern digital parents unique. Phillips identified with this greatly, noting his personal experience wherein children are the ones who are much more knowledgeable with technology, helping the older generations. Phillips spoke of an AARP tech program which connects young people with seniors to explain and help with technology issues. Mendoza saw similar instances in the Hispanic immigrant community with young children guiding their parents and older relatives. Williams noted that these parents are looking for more control - over content, screen time, and the online experience. By focusing on the “sandwich generation,” you can give families meaningful control of their interactions.
Williams then discussed some of the wider benefits of Comcast’s Internet Essentials program, noting the significant investment that families make when purchasing a new phone, tablet, or laptop. Williams spoke of the importance of community partnerships as those organizations will know the context of their constituents’ situations. Mendoza added that when partnering with Latino groups, it’s important for partners to provide resources in the language they prefer.
When asked about multi-generational homes, Mendoza mentioned it is often a language or educational barrier when explaining online safety and technology. She mentioned how children often have the responsibility to warn parents of scams because of the lack of understanding.
In a final question, the panelists contemplated what is needed in terms of legislation or regulation. Phillips stated how complex the issue of online safety is, with an example of telehealth services, and the need for policy to keep up with technology innovations. Equally important is the need for policy change that accounts for future innovations. Mendoza stated that this issue needs a wide variety of partners working together and specifically mentioned the need for stronger consumer privacy protections for every user. Williams agreed for the need for public-private partnerships and the importance of a framework, not guardrails, that will not stifle innovation.