18-24 Year Olds More Conservative Re: Kids’ Access to Net & Social Networking than Older Adults

January 30, 2007 by Lisa Oshima | Developers, Social Media

A new survey conducted by Zogby International on behalf of the United States Congressional Internet Caucus Advisory Committee was just published, in advance of the annual State of the Net policy conference, which is due to take place on January 31st in Washington, DC. 1,200 adults were surveyed between 1/24/07 and 1/26/07, and the results are both interesting and incredibly relevant to social media.

The survey highlights changing attitudes among 18-24 year olds in comparison to their older counterparts.  For starters, the survey shows that 18-24 year olds have very different perceptions of privacy than their older counterparts.  While 91% of the survey participants felt that expectations of privacy have changed with the introduction and usage of new technologies and the Internet, 18-24 year olds do not seem as concerned with traditional “privacy” concerns:

  • Only 35.6% of 18-24 year-olds feel that it is a violation of privacy for someone else to post a picture of them in a swimsuit on-line.  This is in sharp contrast to the views of the 25+ year-old crowd, 65.5% of whom felt this was a violation of privacy.
  • Similarly, 19.6% of 18-24 year-olds consider their dating profile to be an invasion of their privacy versus to 54.6% of all other respondents.

The majority of 18-24 year olds felt that children should wait “much longer to use all aspects of the Internet, including email and social networking.  More than 75% of respondents felt that children should be at least 13 years old until they are allowed to have an email address.  And, of this 75%, 40.7% of them believe that children should be at least 16 or wait until adulthood to get an email address.  65.6% of survey respondents felt that access to social networking sites should be restricted until children reach the age of 16.  More interesting still, 18-24 year olds felt more strongly about this than their older counterparts.

Commenting on the survey, Tim Lordan, executive director of the Congressional Internet Caucus Advisory Committee said:

Whether health care, e-commerce or social networking, privacy is at the forefront of every major policy debate…  This survey raises questions that could significantly impact our policymaking on privacy in years to come, assuming the MySpace generation maintains their privacy views as they age.”

I find the viewpoints of the 18-24 year olds surveyed particularly interesting- especially their conservative thoughts about when children should be allowed to access the Internet.  I suspect (though can’t prove) that the conservative attitudes on this topic are the result of intense exposure to the Internet, email, and social networking sites from a young age.  18-24 year-olds are probably more aware of the dangers of the Internet than most older adults.

The Internet became accessible to the masses and deeply incorporated into formal education about 15 or 16 years ago, making the adults who are now in the 18-24 age bracket the first group of adults who may not be able to remember a time without computers or the Internet.  In the last 5 years that on-line social networking has become popular, adults that are now 18-24 years old were in the prime of their “internet education”.  By this, I mean that most of them were either in high school or college when the Internet became a ubiquitous social networking tool.  As a result, most of them had more free time than the average older adult to experiment on-line, doing things that their parents/ teachers/ guardians had no idea about.  The Internet and social networking were made an integral part of the fabric of youth culture for the first time, and like all other aspects of youth culture, adults weren’t nearly as familiar about what was going on as the kids who were experiencing it first hand.   Like most adults looking back on their childhood, I’m guessing that the now 18-24 year olds have begun to identify the youthful indiscretions/ mistakes they made on-line and can equally appreciate the opportunities and dangers of the internet more than average older adults, who haven’t experienced the Internet in the same way as those in the younger age groups.

The 18-24 year old viewpoints about age-limits for the Internet exposed in the Zogby survey combined with Tim Lordan’s comment make me wonder what will happen with the regulation of the Internet over time.  Will the US Government eventually impose an “age limit” on obtaining certain privileges on the Internet?  Will they introduce on-line identification program, in an attempt to “protect” children?  Neither of these options seems viable, given the “open” and multi-national nature of the Internet.

In my post on January 18, I talked about the need for parents to protect their children from the dangers of the internet, while at the same time promoting personal accountability and responsibility.  I continue to believe that it is important for parents to make decisions about how their kids use the Internet. I also believe that worldwide governments or an international agency comprised of industry experts and child welfare advocates should provide guidelines to parents (not unlike is done for television or movie ratings).  However, I believe that if the government tries to regulate the Internet too closely, it will turn into a bureaucratic nightmare.  In my opinion, it is impossible for anyone, besides parents to “police” the Internet for children.  Others can only help the cause. To do this, security education and features should be made freely and easily available to parents from the moment they buy a new computer or download a new browser.

I was trying to come up with ideas for how security features could be made more easily available to parents.  The US government could help with this, mandating that all OEMs offer a specific level of security features with the sale of each computer.  They could also ensure that anytime a new browser is downloaded that owners have the option of installing the same level of security features.  So, when parents buy a computer or download a new browser, they are prompted to assign a password to each of their children and set up certain privileges/ levels of privacy – i.e.:

  • Kevin – Age 8 – Password= DogCat22. Only able to access X,Y, Z website, and parental notification and activity logging is on. No email access allowed.
  • Jenny- Age 13- Password= Hocus24Pocus. Able to access any website that is considered “safe” by the installed kid-safe screening software, but parental notification and activity logging is on.  Email access allowed to/from the following addresses: X, Y, Z (or to/from anyone at A,B,C domain – e.g. a child’s school) or between X-Y time on Z date when parent will be with child helping research.
  • Peter – Age 16 – Password= 276BasketballFootball. Able to access any website, but parental notification is on.  Open email access to all addresses but parental notification will notify parents of who child is emailing. Not allowed to download a new browser.
  • Amy – Age 18 – Password= Seven8Six.  Open access. No parental screening. Not allowed to download a new browser.

I’m sure the ACLU would disagree, but with a system like this, kids would actually have to talk to their parents about what they’re up to on-line and vice versa.  Similarly, parents would have the ultimate control on what their kids are allowed to do on-line and the ability to change these settings as/when appropriate (and preferably via their mobile phone from the road or their PC from work).  I’d much prefer to see a system like this than an overly legislated set of laws, that like the driving/drinking/smoking ages seem arbitrary and discourage personal responsibility.

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  • I agree with your assertion that we are as a collective more relaxed about issues of privacy and public policy and this attitude is more pronounced in the younger generations who are more conversant and less suspicious of new technology and the internet. The proliferation of countries wanting to bring in smart card technology to its citizens for varying uses is one case in point (ignoring the national security argument for a moment).

    Australia is struggling with the issue of regulating internet and mobile content; see my blog at http://simonbush.vox.com for some posts on what is going on.

    re protecting children againts the evils found on the internet – the best advice i have seen is simply to not have internet access on a computer in a child's bedroom where their activties are hidden from view. Have a communal internet terminal in the loungroom or kitchen for this purpose so you can see what is going on and they will baheve themselves – problem solved!



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