Parents Voicing Ever Stronger Concerns About Risks to Children’s Safety Online, From Social Media to Artificial Intelligence to Strangers, New Study Finds

More than 75% of Parents Think Tech Companies and Government Need to Do a Better Job Protecting Children from Dangerous Online Content, According to Survey from the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children

NEW YORK, Dec. 6, 2023 /PRNewswire/ — Parents are more and more concerned about risks to their children’s safety on the internet – and they believe technology companies and the government aren’t doing enough to protect children, according to the latest study from the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NYSPCC), one of the foremost child protection agencies in the world. 

Eighty-two percent of parents with children under age 18 have concerns about the potential risks to children interacting with strangers online through popular websites and apps, including 38% who are “extremely” concerned – a jump of 10 percentage points since just last year.

What’s more, almost all parents (89%) are concerned about the potential negative effects social media may have on children’s development. Also top of mind for parents is a new worry: artificial intelligence. In fact, 77% of parents are concerned about AI presenting more internet safety risks to children.

The NYSPCC study, Parent Perceptions of Internet Risks to Children, surveyed more than 700 parents in the U.S. with children younger than age 18 as part of the organization’s mission to help prevent child abuse and neglect through its work with parents, teachers, children and foster care agencies. The survey found 76% of parents think technology companies need to do a better job protecting their children from inappropriate online and social media content, with 73% saying the federal government needs to hold technology companies more accountable to provide better safeguards.

“Parents are not satisfied with what tech companies are doing to protect their children, and they believe the government needs to take these companies to task. Right now, while tech companies are required to report to law enforcement child pornography they find online, they are not required to actively search for those images and videos,” said Dr. Jacqueline Holloway, the NYSPCC’s interim director of special projects. “But 74% of parents feel differently, and favor legally requiring tech companies to search for child pornography.”

Most parents – 75% – are also concerned that their children can access websites containing pornography. That includes 34% who are “extremely” concerned, an increase of 10 percentage points from when the NYSPCC first conducted the study in 2020.

Many Parents Are Struggling with Monitoring Internet Activity – and Find Control Tools Inadequate

Only 39% of parents report they frequently monitor their children’s online activities, while 23% do monitor their children’s activities – but not as much as they think they should. Nearly four-in-10 parents don’t monitor their children’s use of the internet or social media because their children are not online (16%), they trust their children’s judgment (11%) or they have set parental controls to block access to certain sites or apps (11%).

At the same time, 61% of parents agree they need better information about how to use parental controls, and almost two-thirds (65%) say current parental control tools on internet platforms are inadequate to block access to inappropriate online content.

Nearly Half of Parents Aren’t Aware of Sextortion, a Top Internet Safety Risk

Only about half of parents (52%) are aware of the serious internet crime called “sextortion,” which is when a person coerces, blackmails or extorts another person to share sexual pictures or perform sexual acts on a webcam.

“Our research shows parents who know about sextortion are so alarmed that they discuss it with their children. Sixty-one percent of parents with teenagers who are aware of the crime have talked to their children about it,” said Dr. Holloway.

Parents are also aware of other top internet safety risks for their children. Two-thirds are aware that many popular apps used by children allow companies and people to track locations and 65% are aware that many of these same apps allow advertising that may display sexually explicit, violent and other inappropriate content.

Parents are generally confident – 71% – their children would tell them if they were approached by someone online and asked to share inappropriate or explicit photos. Parents indicated that they believe their children might be reluctant to tell them if they were approached online for inappropriate or explicit photos due to their children feeling embarrassed (45%) and concerned about losing access to the internet (37%), tablet/computer (36%) or smartphone (35%).

“The good news is that parents seem to understand the importance of maintaining a dialogue with their children. Eighty-one percent of parents with teenagers have discussed how to recognize inappropriate sexual behavior from others, while 61% of parents with children ages six to 12 have done the same,” said Muna Heaven, the NYSPCC’s interim executive director. “Education must be a continuous effort to help prevent sexual exploitation and protect our children.”

For more survey findings, please see the full report or reach out to [email protected].

Survey Methodology
The survey consisted of interviews in mid-September 2023 with a national probability sample of 702 parents/caregivers with children under age 18. The research was designed for the NYSPCC by Michaels Opinion Research, Inc. and utilized the AmeriSpeak panel, which is funded and operated by NORC at the University of Chicago. Data have been weighted to national U.S. Census benchmarks and are balanced by gender, age, education, race/ethnicity, and region. The margin of error for the total sample of tabulated results is ±5.17 percentage points and is greater for smaller subsamples of respondents.

About the NYSPCC
The New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NYSPCC) is one of the oldest and most highly respected child protective agencies in the world. Founded in 1874, the NYSPCC helps the most vulnerable children of our community recover from trauma. And, more importantly, it helps prevent child abuse through its work with parents, teachers, children, and foster care agencies. The NYSPCC has investigated more than 650,000 cases on behalf of over two million children and has educated over 53,000 professionals working with children on child abuse and neglect issues. Read more about the NYSPCC at

SOURCE The New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children

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