Parents Weigh In on Children's Internet Use A parent talks to her 9-year-old son about his Internet use and surveys parents at her son's school about how much access to the Internet they give their children.
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Parents Weigh In on Children's Internet Use

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Parents Weigh In on Children's Internet Use

Parents Weigh In on Children's Internet Use

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If parents are more concerned about TV than the Internet, it's because they think they can do a better job of controlling their kids' access to the Internet.

So we asked Celeste Headlee to find out what parents are doing, and she started at home.

CELESTE HEADLEE: If you could choose anything in the world that you wanted to do and you could spend a whole day doing it, what would you do?

Unidentified Child: Probably play electronics, maybe watch a movie, you know, stuff like that.

HEADLEE: My son turns nine this summer and it's a sad truth for me that his friends will spend a good part of their lives in cyberspace.

How about going outside?

Unidentified Child: No, I like electronics and TV better than outside.

HEADLEE: And this is a kid that's been to Disneyland, regularly goes camping, swimming and biking, and owns all the baseball equipment available. Naturally, I get concerned about how much time he spends on the computer and what he is exposed to over the Internet. But I'm never sure if the decisions I make are comparable to what goes on in other households. So I chatted with some of the parents at the end of school year celebration, gathered inside a circle of picnic tables loaded with pizza, cookies and Doritos. Most of them were happy to talk about how they police their kids.

Ms. JENNIFER WOODMAN(ph) (Parent): No computers or televisions in bedrooms, only in community areas in the home, and they are limited on the amount of time they're allowed to spend on them.

HEADLEE: Do you let them go to YouTube?

Ms. WOODMAN: Don't even know what it is.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HEADLEE: How about MySpace?

Ms. WOODMAN: No, because I feel as though they're opening themselves up to an environment that we can't control. They can get social interaction with kids in their own school, in their own neighborhood; they don't need to do it online.

HEADLEE: Jennifer Woodman has two children - girls aged eight and nine. Most of the kids at the park attend the same school in suburban Detroit.

Ms. JULIA HOFFMAN (Parent): I'm Julia Hoffman(ph). I have four children.

HEADLEE: What about the Internet? Do you let them watch YouTube?

Ms. HOFFMAN: I watch it with them. I police what they do with it. They're not, they ask me, mom, can we go on YouTube? We heard about this whatever. And I - some of it is valid, funny stuff. My sister sent me a link to a talking cat.

HEADLEE: But Jeffrey Collier(ph), father of four, wouldn't dream of letting his kids search through the YouTube library.

Mr. JEFFREY COLLIER (Parent): Because it's too racy. I find too many things on YouTube that I don't want my kids to see. And there's no way to block it when you go to YouTube. Once you get on YouTube, it's like they can go anywhere and type in anything and find anything.

I look at things today on the TV that they show on regular TV, they wouldn't have dared shown when I was a kid. And it's hard to even let your kids watch the Cartoon Network, you know?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. COLLIER: It's hard to let them watch that but I let them watch it. I just put a block on it but their G rating is not my G rating, so I have to watch exactly and then block specific shows.

HEADLEE: Cathy Wydig(ph) wonders whether she wants to spend her time sitting on the couch watching "SpongeBob" or e-mailing her son's friends every day.

Ms. CATHY WYDIG (Parent): We weren't monitored as children that much other than basic safety. But even then we were often with our friends or outside or at other people's homes where we weren't monitored. So in a way I actually think the kids are more safe now because we're probably too much involved.

But there is that danger of just overstaying with such technology and - as opposed to doing other things. So that's always the balance, that's always the goal.

HEADLEE: Their choices seemed pretty close to my own. Probably it's nice to know you're normal. Perhaps we're all kidding ourselves, but at least I know my son understands the basic safety rules of Internet use. What if somebody was talking to him on the Internet and wanted to get your personal information?

Unidentified Child: That I wouldn't tell him.

HEADLEE: Why not?

Unidentified Child: Because mom said always not to tell people about that.

HEADLEE: Very important lesson when you have a kid that would rather play polar bear bowling online than spend the day at the swimming pool. If a new poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation teaches us anything, it's that most parents are doing their best to control the use of technology and keep their kids safe. But we'd probably have a lot more free time if we didn't have to be so vigilant.

Celeste Headlee, NPR News, turning off my son's computer in Detroit.

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