According to a recent survey by Cox Communications and the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), parents are doing a better job of monitoring their children’s online behavior on home computers, but there needs to be improvement to keep kids safer when they use mobile and other connected devices.

The survey focused on Internet use by “tweens,” which it defined as kids between the ages of 10 and 13. The survey found that parents have ramped up monitoring their children’s online behavior at home by talking to them and setting guidelines and restrictions for Internet use on home computers.

While online safety has improved on the home front, the plethora of Internet-connected devices, which includes smartphones, game consoles, handheld games and tablets, has created other online challenges for parents. The average family uses five Internet-enabled devices at home.

The Tween Internet Safety Survey found that 95 percent of tweens use mobile devices to go online.

Tween Internet Safety Survey
Mobile devices and gaming consoles were widely used by tweens to access Web content, but the survey revealed a lack of guidelines and controls on these devices that could leave tweens vulnerable. While 68 percent of parents surveyed said they monitored their child's Internet behavior on mobile devices, the survey showed that only one in five (17 percent) actually use basic parental control features, such as age-appropriate Web content filtering on smartphones, tablets and game consoles.

"We applaud the efforts parents are making to keep their kids safe online, but we all must remain vigilant and proactive when it comes to knowing what children are accessing on the Web and the devices they are using," said Ernie Allen, NCMEC’s president and CEO. "Educating parents about the potential risks their children face online and empowering them to take simple preventive steps is critical to helping keep families safe."

The survey showed that many parents were not using the monitoring software and parental control tools available on their tweens' mobile devices because they were not familiar with how they work.

Among the findings:

  • 83 percent of tweens use a gaming console to access the Internet at home.
  • 51 percent of the parents in the survey said they monitor their child's Internet behavior on gaming consoles.
  • 65 percent of parents said they were aware of and knew how to use parental controls on mobile devices and gaming consoles with Internet access.

The survey results also showed a gap between what tweens are doing online and what their parents believe they are doing, including:

  • 82 percent of parents surveyed considered themselves very knowledgeable about what their tween does online, and for the most part, believed their tween practices safe online behavior. However, many of the tweens surveyed admitted to engaging in risky online behavior, including breaking the rules, accessing inappropriate content and covering their tracks as they go – often unbeknownst to parents.
  • 44 percent admitted they've looked at or watched something online that their parents wouldn't approve of (only 28 percent of parents were aware of this).
  • 34 percent lied to parents about what they've done online (only 18 percent of parents were aware of this).

Lastly, many children were facing online risks without their parents' knowledge:

  • 42 percent have received a personal message from someone they didn't know (only 22 percent of parents were aware of this).
  • 17 percent have received an email or online message with pictures or words that made them feel uncomfortable (only 7 percent of parents were aware of this).
  • 12 percent have already been bullied by someone online (only 6 percent of parents were aware of this).

The survey recommended that while parents keep talking to their tweens about Internet safety, they should also use parental controls, especially on mobile devices that can be taken beyond the watchful eyes of parents. On Cox’s website, parents can find tips to help them take charge of what their kids see and don't see online.

The interviews were conducted April 6 through April 19 on behalf of Cox Communications in partnership with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children.