Mobile apps designed to help parents keep their teenaged children safe from online predators may harm the trust between a parent and child, as well as reduce the child's ability to respond to cyber threats, to researchers say. The findings showed that the use of parental control apps was associated with teenagers experiencing more, not fewer, online risks, including unwanted explicit content, harassment, and online sexual solicitations.
"Parental involvement and direct supervision were both associated with fewer peer problems and less online victimisation for teenagers, but neither of these factors correlated with the use of parental control apps," said Arup Kumar Ghosh, a doctoral student in the University of Central Florida.
"Our findings suggest that most parental-control apps are those that attempt to control what teenagers can do online, but ultimately do little to keep them safe online," added Pamela Wisniewski, Assistant Professor at the University.
In another study, the team analysed 736 publicly posted reviews written by teenagers and younger children for parental-control apps available for download on Google Play. They found that approximately 79 per cent of the reviews written by children rated the apps at either two stars or less out of a possible five. It is because the apps were 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 apps also prevented them from doing everyday tasks, such as homework assignments, and turned their parents into "stalkers." "Teenagers and even younger children told us loudly and clearly that they would rather their parents talk to them than use parental control apps," Ghosh said.
By trying to completely shield teens from experiencing any and all online risks, some parents are keeping teens from developing the necessary coping mechanisms that they will need throughout their lives, the researchers suggested. The results will be presented at the Association for Computing Machinery's Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems in Montreal.