Ninety four percent of parents who have teenagers say they have talked with their kids about online behavior and what things should and should not be shared while online, according to recent research by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project.  And 93 percent of parents talk with their kids about ways to safely use the Internet as well as their cellphones.  Do those figures sound more impressive than you might have expected?  Well, the kids themselves validate them with 86% saying they have received advice from their parents about being responsible online.

These are just a very small sampling of the incredibly rich data points that were shared at the onset of the 5th Annual Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) Conference, which was held last week in Washington, D.C.  This year’s theme was “Evaluate, Innovate, Collaborate:  Strategies for Safe and Healthy Online Use.”  The conference opened with Amanda Lenhart, senior research specialist with the Pew Center, sharing the group’s findings from a study titled “Teens, Kindness and Cruelty on Social Network Sites.”  The theme of how kids and teens act and interact online was the central subject throughout the conference with much discussion about how industry, government, non-profit organizations, educators, parents and kids can work together to help keep the online space both a vibrant and safe one for all users. 

If you read my blog post on last year’s FOSI Conference, you may already know that this event  not a typical DC policy conference.  In addition to Amanda and a slate of other impressive social science researchers, this year’s conference featured an array of speakers as diverse as the Internet itself with authors, neuroscientists, bloggers and speakers from as far away as Australia and New Zealand.  Among this mix was Ed Amoroso, AT&T Senior Vice President and Chief Security Officer, who shared his perspective by drawing from experiences in his two most important roles in life – as a computer scientist and a parent.  While sharing insight into the promise of new mobile and cloud technologies, Ed focused, in particular, on the issue of anonymity online and the younger generations’ sometimes casual attitude towards it.  In a wide-ranging conversation with FOSI CEO Stephen Balkam, Ed discussed how we need to find ways to help kids today understand and have a healthy respect for the seriousness and responsibility that comes with being online.

One of the other themes of the conference was the importance of finding the right messages for kids and teens so that they are both meaningful and effective.  Which is why we were excited to announce a first-of-its-kind agreement with Common Sense Media to help bring our wireless customers the information they need to manage mobile content in a way that makes the most sense for their kids and their families.  This effort adds to our existing support of other leading online safety organizations, including FOSI, iKeepSafe, Connect Safely and Enough is Enough, and will complement our active engagement with CTIA’s ongoing effort to create an industry-wide mobile apps rating system.

Finally, for those parents out there who were wondering, according to the Pew Center’s research, while the teens still have you beat in their use of Facebook with 93 percent maintaining a Facebook account, you’re close behind with 87 percent of you maintaining your own account.  Even better, 80 percent of you who have teenagers who use social media are “friends” with them online.  And, oh, by the way, as the students from D.C.’s own Wilson High School taught us at the end of day one of the conference, if you happen to notice that you are your teenager’s only friend on their Facebook page, you might want to ask them if you can friend them on their other account as well.

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