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Apps counter-productive against cyber bullies

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There’s a plethora of online parental control apps but whether they’re doing any good is questionable, in fact it looks like they’re achieving the exact opposite of their intention with teens accessing more online nasties with the apps installed.

What is certain is that apps are no replacement for good parenting. Child safety apps damage the trust between parent and child and reduce their ability to respond to online threats. Their use is also associated with an authoritarian brand of parenting which kids chafe against, unsurpisingly.

According to the national University of Central Florida’s Crimes Against Children Research Center the internet remains a dangerous place for kids to surf alone; 23% have experienced accidental exposure to internet pornography, while 11% have been victims of online harassment and 9% report sexual solicitations online.

Researchers examined the types of parents who use parental-control apps on their teen's mobile smartphone, whether the apps actually helped keep teens safe online, and what teens and younger children thought about their parents using these apps.

Authoritarian parents, who were less responsive to their teen's need for autonomy, were the most likely to use the parental control apps. However, use of these apps was associated with teens accessing more unwanted explicit content, harassment and online sexual solicitations. The study was based on a survey of 215 parent-and-teen pairs in the United States.

"Parental involvement and direct supervision were both associated with fewer peer problems and less online victimisation for teens, but neither of these factors correlated with the use of parental control apps," said Arup Kumar Ghosh, a doctoral student in UCF's College of Engineering and Computer Science, who conducted the research.

In a second study, researchers looked at how teens and younger children felt about parental-control apps.

The researchers analysed 736 publicly posted reviews written by teens and younger children for parental-control apps available for download on Google Play; 79% of the reviews written by children rated the apps at either two stars or less out of a possible five.

Children found the apps overly restrictive, were an invasion of their personal privacy and supported "lazy" or bad parenting instead of improving communication channels between them and their parents. The children explained that the apps prevented them from doing everyday tasks, such as homework assignments, and turned their parents into "stalkers”.

The research found teens would rather their parents talk to them than use parental control apps as they wanted their parents' trust and respect.

By trying to completely shield teens from experiencing all online risks, parents are keeping teens from developing the necessary coping mechanisms that they will need throughout their lives.

It seems more parental control does not ensure teen safety and that a certain amount of autonomy in allowing teenagers to make appropriate decisions may be the best approach for parenting.

One suggestion arising from the research indicates that children, particularly teens, should play a central role in the design and development of mobile apps designed to keep them safe online.

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