You are here

Internet filters in the home ‘not effective’ in protecting teenagers online

Research calls for promotion of digital resilience to help teens navigate the online world safely and with confidence

A new report from the Oxford Internet Institute has found that setting filters on home broadband services don’t protect teenagers from coming across upsetting content online.

In Internet Filtering Technology and Aversive Online Experiences in Adolescents by Przybylski et al, researchers analyse data from 1,030 interviews in the homes of 515 teenagers aged 12-15 years across the UK. The findings specifically relate to older children, not those 11 and under.

The report found ‘the availability of mobile Internet use suggests that teenagers must be educated, supported, and trusted to use devices responsibly outside the home,’ and recommends ‘The formidable challenge of preventing all aversive experiences underlines the importance of helping parents, carers, and educators to support children and adolescents in developing the resilience to manage such experiences.’

Lead author Dr Andrew Przybylski, from the Oxford Internet Institute, said: ‘Parents may feel reassured in knowing they have internet filters in their home, but our results suggest that such filters do not safeguard against young people seeing things that may frighten or upset them. We strongly believe that there is a need for more evidence to provide guidance on keeping young people safe online so policymakers, parents and those concerned with educating young people can support them in an appropriate way.     

‘The data suggests that future research needs to look carefully at the long-term value of filters and see whether they protect young people at a wider range of ages.’

The study concludes: ‘Internet filters have been adopted as a tool for limiting the negatives; however, evidence of their effectiveness is dubious. We conducted our study to address this uncertainty, and we failed to find convincing evidence that Internet filters were effective at shielding early adolescents from aversive experiences online. Instead, we found convincing evidence they were not effective in our sample.’

Parent Zone has been at the forefront of raising awareness of the importance of nurturing online resilience in children and young internet users as an essential part of parenting in the digital age.

Our recent report, Ordinary magic for the digital age: understanding children's online resilience, examined the existing research on the subject, while Parent Zone’s CEO, Vicki Shotbolt, is currently co-chairing the UKCIS working group into digital resilience .

She says: ‘What’s vital is that we do everything we can to raise children’s levels of digital resilience. To do that we need to understand what we mean by it and make sure that our collective efforts are contributing to it.’

The working group’s report is due to be published later this year.


Further reading

A Shared Responsibility: building children’s online resilience

Ordinary magic for the digital age

Teaching your child digital resilience

Internet Filtering Technology and Aversive Online Experiences in Adolescents


Image: Parent Zone