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Online Safety Across Generations

SUREN on January 07, 2019

Family groupie

For the first time in history, technology has become an integral part of three whole generations. This includes seniors, adult parents and their children. Technology’s reach can be largely owed to its easy adaptability and low cost availability. The good news is that this penetration is a global phenomenon and not just restricted to developed nations. Family Online Safety Institute conducted a research to quantify online user behaviour across three generations to provide insights on this subject. In this article, we aim to give you an overview of online behavioural trends amongst seniors, adult parents and their children.

What the Numbers Say

While it is clearly evident that, of all generations, children are the most engrossed in their online worlds, how far behind are their parents? And what do they think about technology as the fundamental bond that brings families together? A grand 57% of parents think that technology has brought families closer, but that percentage drops as we move onto older parents, members of Generation X. Millennial parents on the other hand, who have themselves grown up with technology and have used it to stay connected with friends and family for most of their lives, seem to believe that technology is an efficient catalyst to keep the family tightly knit.

When it comes to online security, seniors are more concerned about identity theft and data breaches… so much so that they refrain from using applications that adults and children use to make day-to-day activities easier. This accounts for more than 20% of the seniors who took the survey. But roughly 65% of these seniors have taken steps to protect themselves online. This includes measures like setting up different and hard-to-crack passwords for different accounts they use on different apps.

Old Men With Slim Phones and Beards

Of all the seniors who have never used online services before, more than 20% prefer in-person conversations over virtual ones. In addition to being concerned about identity theft, this group is also worried about computer viruses and malware attacks. Their lack of online presence is, interestingly enough, not related to the cost of electronic devices and internet plans. When it comes to advising their children and grandchildren about using online services, 53% of the seniors advocated for improving personal security measures while using applications.

When it comes to parents of young children, 53% of think that technology has brought them closer to their children while 28% feel that it has made it harder for them to connect. Once again, the percentage of parents who feel that technology has effectively brought their children closer to them increases as their age decreases. This could be due to the fact that most children’s school work now demands some form of online research and work. Young parents also believe that technology makes their children better prepared for jobs of the future, where technology will dictate everything.

However, it is important to note that parents were less enthusiastic about the impact of technology in other departments of their children’s development. A considerable portion of parents feel that technology has had a negative effect on their children’s fitness levels, attention spans and ability to hold a person-to-person conversation. But when it comes to considering the benefits and harms of their children having multiple social media accounts, parents of teenagers are torn. Around 55% of parents believe that they have control over what their children do online while a considerable chunk feel they don’t have any control in that area. As the age of parents increases, they feel more out of control while monitoring their children’s activities.

Young people texting on smartphones using thumbs

Two of the most important findings of this research are that:

  • Around 59% of parents think that their children understand the importance of protecting their identities online and understand that even if they delete something they post or do online, it still doesn’t disappear permanently.

  • Parents are more worried about what their children do online rather than how much time they spend online. Two-thirds feel they need more control over what their children are oing online AND how much time they spend online.

While these numbers say a lot about behavioural trends and the inferences we can draw from them, it can only be truly effective if we address the concerns raised by seniors and parents. For seniors, technology companies can take better efforts to improve data security and ensure that they create targeted campaigns to assure them of that. This will definitely make technology more inclusive than it is now and also equip seniors to make their lives easier. For parents, technology companies can take note of their fears and concerns about their children’s online activity and take steps to give them the authority to monitor and safeguard their children’s online presence.


Writing credit: Authored by Suren, the co-founder and CEO of Mobicip, and a passionate advocate for mobile learning and Internet safety. Suren speaks or hosts panels at conferences and seminars on these topics for parents and educators. He also serves as a consultant for educational technology projects in K-12 schools and school districts. 

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