Screen time terrors: 7 in 10 parents fear their kids are becoming ‘internet zombies’

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NEW YORK — Is all that time spent on social media, gaming apps, and streaming services turning kids’ brains into mush? Seven in 10 American parents are worried their children are turning into internet “zombies,” according to a survey.

The study polled 2,000 American parents of school-aged children and found 64 percent are concerned about the amount of time their children spend on the internet. Another two in three believe their child’s overall behavior has changed as a result of increased time online.

While 71 percent trust their child is mature enough to roam the web unsupervised, a quarter of parents think a child should be in their teens before allowing this. Still, the average parent surveyed let their child browse the internet independently at 11 years-old.

Generally, parents think it’s inevitable that their child will see something inappropriate on the internet when they’re not able to monitor them (68%) or while they’re at school or doing homework online (71%).

Parents are also worried that their child might receive messages from strangers (43%) or may accidentally access inappropriate content (39%).

Conducted by OnePoll on behalf of Lightspeed Systems, an online safety and analytics solutions platform, the survey found that it isn’t uncommon for parents to monitor their child’s online activity by asking their child to show them what they’re doing or set parental controls on the devices (40%).

Keeping your kids safe online

Similarly, 38 percent conduct random checks on their children’s internet history, and 37 percent make their kids hand over their devices at bedtime. Nearly half the poll have caught their child on the internet or social media when they were supposed to be doing homework (49%) and even more believe their child tells them they’re doing homework or research for school as an excuse to go on the internet (63%).

Of those whose children have a school-issued device, more parents feel like they have less awareness about the websites their child visits on those devices than personal ones (66% vs. 75%).
Consequently, nearly all of these parents would opt for their child’s school to use monitoring software on these devices to detect interactions with concerning or inappropriate content online (90%).

“It’s important for parents to discuss internet safety with their kids to ensure they’re being as safe as possible when online. Although 64 percent of parents have tried, many reported that it’s hard to get the message across,” says Brian Thomas, CEO of Lightspeed Systems, in a statement. “Schools rely on our AI-based software and human review team to ensure that they see warning signs of mental health issues and can intervene before an incident occurs. Last school year, we issued over 300,000 alerts for self-harm and violence.”

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Schools to the rescue

The same percentage are already confident in their school’s ability to monitor online activity, with a whopping 92 percent of parents admitting they rely on the school’s vigilance to protect their children.

Three in four parents whose child has a school-issued device say they’ve already experienced a situation where the school has flagged them of inappropriate or dangerous behavior when monitoring the device.

“This may be why the majority of parents (72%) said that they would want their child’s school to contact them about concerning online behavior,” Thomas continues. “Recently, one of our clients shared with us that 87 percent of our alerts to her district were for students who were not known to be experiencing mental health issues, and who otherwise would not have received the help they needed.”