Connected and Concerned: How Parental Concerns about Online Safety Issues Vary

Authors: danah boyd and Eszter Hargittai

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Citation: boyd, d. & Hargittai, E. (2013). Connected and Concerned: How Parental Concerns about Online Safety Issues Vary. Internet & Policy. 5(3):245-269.


The widespread adoption of social media and other networked technologies by youth has prompted concerns about the safety issues they face when they go online, including the potential of being hurt by a stranger, being exposed to pornographic or violent content, and bullying or being bullied. These concerns often manifest as fears and anxieties in parents and can lead to pervasive moral panics. Eager to shield children from potential risks, parents—and lawmakers—often respond to online safety concerns by enacting restrictions with little consideration for the discrepancy between parental concern and actual harm. As this article shows, parental fears are not uniform across different population groups. Our findings demonstrate that, while concern may be correlated with experiencing online safety risks, parental concerns with respect to online safety issues also vary significantly by background—notably race and ethnicity, income, metropolitan status, and political ideology. As policies develop to empower parents, more consideration must be given to how differences in parental fears shape attitudes, practices, and norms.


We would like to thank Maria Yarolin and Dana Markow from Harris Interactive for their tremendous help in survey design, implementation, and analysis. We are deeply indebted to Amanda Lenhart and Michele Ybarra for their extensive help at every stage of this project. We would also like to thank Gaia Bernstein, Sahara Byrne, Jessie Daniels, David Finkelhor, Sonia Livingstone, Mary Madden, and Lisa Nakamura for helping us interpret the findings, and John Palfrey and Jason Schultz for helping initiate this project. We appreciate the assistance we received from Zarek Brot-Goldberg, Heather Casteel, Madison Ginsberg, Jenna Lebersfeld, Alex Leavitt, and Veronica Nieves. We thank Sara Goldrick-Rab for inspiring the title. We are also grateful for the numerous other scholars and critics who advised us on everything from survey design to statistical analysis, including, and especially, those at Microsoft Research's Social Media Collective and Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet & Society.

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