Mom vs Machine: The BlogHer-Parenting Magazine Research Study
When it comes to online behaviors and technology use, what are Moms doing online? And what do they really think about what their kids are doing? Do they embrace or fear technology? Are there generational gaps? How do moms use their own tech knowledge and social media savvy to monitor their children’s behavior online? The news is chock full of stories about cyber-bullying among young people, but is it really an everyday occurrence or still mercifully rare?
In June 2010, BlogHer partnered with Parenting Magazine to help answer these questions. We collaborated on a survey and then that same survey was fielded on two separate populations:
- 568 digitally savvy moms aged 18-49 in the BlogHer Publishing Network
- 464 moms aged 18+ on the Parenting Mom Connection panel
While most of the results showed directional similarity between the two samples, and both sets of moms were highly active users of social media, BlogHer moms proved substantially more active online than the Moms from the Parenting panel. 96% of the moms in the BlogHer sample said they engaged with online communities on a daily basis, compared to the still notable 63% from Parenting’s MomConnection panel.
When asked which types of online communities they would use to discuss parenting issues, both groups were right at home on Facebook. BlogHer moms proved to be “Super Communicators” (i.e. active on most other online platforms too), while MomConnection moms were also comfortable with Message Boards.
What kinds of issues are moms chatting up online? Both groups have a high percentage of active discussions about kid’s behavioral issues, school issues and health/developmental issues. 78% of the BlogHer respondents to this question said they discussed Work-Family balance issues on their own blog, as did 46% of the MomConnection panel respondents when asked the same question.
Money is More Taboo than Sex!
Moms are significantly less likely to discuss issues about their marriage or partners online. Only 21% of the BlogHer respondents to this question said they would discuss “Marriage and relationships” on Facebook (compared to only 11% for the MomConnection panel respondents). The numbers were just as low for talking about disagreements they had with partners over parenting issues. Only 19% of the BlogHer respondents would cover this topic on Facebook, a bit more (31%) said they would discuss it on their own blog. For the MomConnection respondents, only 12% would have parenting disagreements on Facebook, while 44% said they’d do it on a Message Board.
Money, however, is really the final frontier when it comes to online venting. Nobody wants to talk about it online. In fact, the topic is more taboo than sex/marriage/relationship issues! Only 6% of both sets of respondents said they would discuss financial difficulties on Facebook. That number jumped to a (still small) 27% among BlogHer respondents if the discussion was going to take place on their own blog.
Total Sample Responses: BlogHer and Parenting’s Mom Connection Combined
Merging the two samples allowed us to determine total online responses to some of the key issues in this study. The following topic points are based on a total sample of 1032 mom respondents from both groups.
How Are Moms Monitoring their Kids Tech Usage?
Transparency and full disclosure lead the way when it comes to moms overseeing their kid’s tech behavior. It’s more partnership than cloak and dagger. 98% said that they would friend or follow their child on a social network, while 97% said they would monitor with their child’s knowledge. Setting content limits (95%) and time limits (94%) were also common ways to monitor their children online, as were using parental controls on TV’s and browsers (85%) and consulting ratings for movies and/or videogames (89%). Monitoring tech behavior without the child’s knowledge was less popular (60%).
How do Different Types of Media Rank on the “Fear” Scale for Moms?
Social media (67%) and websites (63%) topped the list as media formats that present a real threat to their children. Further down the list but next in line was television (41%). Video games, movies and cell phones all ranked in the middle (30%) threat range. More traditional forms of media like print newspapers (10%) and radio (11%) were not considered threatening to children.
Online Fear: Reality vs. Perception
While the vast majority of the moms are concerned about their kids becoming engaged with extreme online activities such as cyber-bullying, sexting or pornography, the percentage of moms who believe their kids have actually experienced these behaviors is very small (0%-5% range).
Experience vs. Concern about Activities Child Might Engage In
Age at Which Child May Have His/Her Own Device or Account
The results from the study show that moms place limits on device or technology usage on a case-by-case basis. Moms agreed upon a lower median age for regular media consumption like hand held video games (age 7) or an iPod (age 9). Having a TV in the bedroom was also at the lower end of the spectrum, with a median age of 10. However, moms want kids to be older before they experience interactive devices and websites. Cell phones had a median age of 13, Social Network memberships (14) and smart phones at the higher end with a median age of 15.
And some forms of media are off limits for minors. A few moms would place YouTube (9%) in the “never” bucket, while one third (32%) said they would never allow their child to participate in a role-playing online game. However, among moms familiar with the controversial new video chat site, “Chatroulette”, a full 87% of the respondents said…no way.
The Verdict on Technology
With constant monitoring and strict age limits for kids among so many perceived threats, one might surmise that most moms take a dim view of technology. In fact, this study determined the opposite. A significant majority of the respondents agreed that technology is an ally for modern parents. A full 83% said “I care about new tech because it brings benefits to my everyday life”.
When offered the opportunity to agree with negative aspects about technology, less than half the moms in this study did so. Only 24% thought that “technology is harmful” and just 36% agreed that “technology is distracting”.
With modern moms looking towards technology as a partner and not an enemy, there are opportunities for organizations to aid in this effort. Developers can build tools that strengthen communication between moms and kids. Marketers can empower moms with ways to understand and utilize technology. And Media has a role too, perhaps one of the most important. Instead of fear mongering the latest horror story involving children and the Internet, media outlets can function as a “Sherpa guide” for moms who want to understand how to make technology a trusted accomplice.
Jane K. Collins
Director of Market Research, BlogHer