About 17 million youth ages 12 through 17 use the Internet. That represents 73% of those in this age bracket. A study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project reveals that teenagers’ use of the Internet plays a major role in their relationships with their friends, their families, and their schools. Teens and their parents generally think use of the Internet enhances the social life and academic work of children. However, the Internet has a pivotal role in the lives of American teenagers, and there are aspects of the Internet that cause strain and make children and their parents worry that these technologies are not an unqualified good in teens’ lives. Teens are generally intense users of instant messaging technology, and use it and other online spaces and tools to play with and manage their online identities.
Parents and their children often do not agree about the place of the Internet in their home. Many parents say they enforce time limits on their children’s use of the Internet, but most teens do not say they have limits. At times, the role of the Internet at home generates struggles and arguments between parents and teens. Both generations agree that teens know more than their parents about the Internet. They also agree that there are reasons for concern about the impact of the Internet on all teens.
Some 57% of parents worry that strangers will contact their children online. These worries are well grounded. Close to 60% of teens have received an instant message or an email from a stranger and 50% report emailing or instant messaging with someone they have not met before. Despite this, teens themselves are not particularly worried about strangers online. Parents respond to these worries by checking up on their children and sitting down with them on occasion while they are online, and other precautions to keep them safe online.
There is also strong agreement among parents and teens that use of the Internet helps youth at school. In addition to being a key resource for school, material on the Web teaches children in other ways. It helps establish their tastes and fills in their gaps of knowledge on sensitive subjects.
About the Survey
This report is based on the findings of a special survey of 754 children, ages 12 to 17, who use the Internet and one of their parents or guardians (total of 1,508 persons interviewed) and was conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates between November 2, 2000 and December 15, 2000. Results in this report are based largely on data from this special survey of online youth and parents. For results based on this survey, the margin of error is plus or minus 4 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting telephone surveys may introduce some error or bias into the findings of opinion polls.