Strength in Numbers: Millennial Parents May Be the Catalyst Shaping the Future of Online Safety

Published on February 1, 2021

If parenting was tough before the Internet, the digital parenting age has certainly ratcheted it up a few notches. Trying to keep up with the latest gadgets, video games and social media platforms children and teens are using today can be overwhelming—which is why a younger generation of parents—Millennial parents (age 23-38)—are shifting attitudes and intentionally focusing on a new approach to online safety. That’s according to the findings of a Verizon-sponsored multi-phase study from the Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI), an international, non-profit organization working to make the online world safer for kids and their families.

In addition to a nationwide survey, the study included online community conversations with parents and kids that not only identify some of their concerns and expectations but also define the characteristics of Millennial parents and their attitudes toward online safety. Below are some key takeaways:

Experience doesn’t provide immunity, but it does offer a broader perspective

During the online community conversations, parents of all generations including Millennials, Baby Boomers and Generation X-ers expressed astonishment in the number of apps, services and devices offered today. As digital natives, Millennials may be more adept in using these technologies, but this does not give them immunity to anxiety over today’s vast digital landscape. While they have likely earned their stripes with regard to online safety—experiencing firsthand online incidents that they’ve had to resolve—they’re also familiar with online safety threats and solutions in schools and communities and use this perspective to inform their approach to addressing issues facing children today. For example, while 57% of Baby Boomer parents and 43% of Gen X-ers “own” the responsibility of keeping their children safe online, just 30% of Millennials consider themselves the “most” responsible party in keeping kids safe online. In fact, they tend to view online safety as more of a shared responsibility not only between themselves and their kids but also among the media, tech industries, government agencies and schools.

Millennial parents are resourceful in finding online safety solutions

Solutions and online tools to manage online safety are abundant. While older generations are more apt to only conduct general internet searches or consider information shared by schools, Millennial parents do not hesitate to explore information from a much wider range of sources. For example, one-third of millennial parents say they are likely to use safety controls provided by social media platforms, compared to less than a quarter of older parents. Millennials are also more likely to use in-platform controls for gaming, streaming music and audio, as well as streaming video services. They are alsomore concerned about their own children’s misbehavior versus Boomer and Gen X parents, who tend to be more concerned with external conditions such as predators, identity theft and hackers, along with the threat of exposure to sexual content.

Of course, Millennial parents are concerned about these threats, too, but for more than 80%, their primary concern has to do with the role their children, primarily teens, play in bypassing rules, misbehaving, bullying, making purchases without parental consent and general inappropriate behavior online that adds to social stress. In contrast, less than half of Boomer and Gen X parents of teens express the same concern. This is further indicative of the shift in Millennial attitudes, as older parents view themselves more as “protectors,” whereas Millennial parents strive to be mentors who speak from their own experiences to guide responsible online decision-making in their children.

Millennials hold the advantage of strength in numbers

Considering Millennial parents’ view of online safety as a shared responsibility, media and tech companies will need to take heed, as these young parents belong to what is now the largest U.S. generation at approximately 72.1 million. Like most everything, taking a stand and catalyzing change requires solidarity. Judging from the findings of the FOSI study, they may be well on their way to influencing the direction of online safety sooner than we think.

To find proven tools and expert advice for navigating gaming, virtual learning, screen time and more, visit: Parenting in the Digital Age.

Neil Mitchell is a media consultant focused on online safety and technology product responsibility. He has collaborated with Verizon on digital safety issues for over a decade.

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