Understanding Parents’ Perceptions of Communication Technology Use

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   International Online Journal of Educational Sciences, 2015, 7 (4), 22 - 36   © 2015 International Online Journal of Educational Sciences (IOJES) is a publication of Educational Researches and Publications Association (ERPA)   www.iojes.net   International Online Journal of Educational Sciences ISSN: 1309-2707 Understanding Parents’ Perceptions of Communication Technology Use Erhan Delen 1 , Fatih Kaya 2 , Nicola L. Ritter 3 , and Alpaslan Sahin 4   1 Department of Computer Education and Instructional Technology, Giresun University, TURKEY. 2 Department of Educational Sciences, Gaziosmanpasa University, TURKEY. 3,4 College of Education and Human Development, Texas A&M University, USA. ARTICLE INFO ABSTRACT  Article Histor y: Received 16.04.2015 Received in revised form 31.08.2015 Accepted 18.09.2015 Available online 12.09.2015 This study examined parents’ perception of their children’s communication technology use. Participants were 421 parents from a city in Southeast Texas. The study explored parents’ perceptions of their communication technology skills compared to their children’s skills. The study also investigated parents’ areas of concern for their children’s technology use, current solutions parents are using to protect their children, and parents’ perspectives about the level of benefit and risk of communication tools and environments. According to descriptive data, parents rate their communica tion technology skills higher than the children’s skills on all of the technologies explored with the exception of online games. Moreover, parents are most concerned with their children’s safety and employ a variety of methods to protect their children fro m online threats. Lastly, parents’ view communication technologies as somewhat risky and of little benefit to the child. Parents' acknowledge there are risks and benefits of communication technologies to their children. A better understanding of parents’ p erceptive of communication technologies is only the beginning to discover how parents’ are monitoring their children’s technologies and the safeguards parents are taking to ensure their children have a positive and safe experience. © 2015 IOJES. All rights reserved Keywords:  1  Communication technology, parents, perception, concerns, social media. Introduction Recent improvements in technology have permitted high-speed Internet connections, which allow access to information anytime and anywhere. Easy accessibility to information regardless of time and place has made the Internet an effective tool to stay connected to the world through various outlets, such as Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites with communication technology devices (e.g., smart phones and tablets). Therefore, computers, related technologies including mobile devices, and the Internet have  become an essential part of our modern life. A substantial amount of research has been conducted wit h teachers’ and students’ perception of technology use; however, there is little research that reports parents’ perceptions of their children’s use of communication technology. Although researchers agree there are benefits to technology use for the develop ment of todays’ students, researchers also acknowledge the risks associated with communication technologies and that the benefits are seen when technology is used with intention (Chapel, 2008; Gemmill & Peterson, 2006; Jans-Thomas, 2005; Wu Fowler, Lam, Wong, Wong, & Loke, 2014). Hence, parents need to be aware of how their children are exposed to various communication technologies and tools, so that parents can protect their children from potential harms and support their children to reap the benefits of these technologies . Because today’s technology rapidly changes, parents may be challenged or find it difficult to follow current technological developments. Therefore, parents may not be aware of the types of threats or side effects their children may be exposed to. Thus, being familiar with recent technological developments and corresponding risks would help parents to provide appropriate protection to their children. 1  Corresponding author ’s  address: Faculty of Education, Department of Computer Education and Instructional Technology, Giresun, TURKEY. Telephone: +90 (454) 310 1200 Fax: +90 (454) 310 1287 e-mail: erhan.delen@giresun.edu.tr  DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15345/iojes.2015.04.003  Erhan Delen, Fatih Kaya, Nicola L. Ritter & Alpaslan Sahin   23 Beginning in the early 20th century, society has been exposed to new technologies for use in daily life, and this exposure has increased in the last decades due to the rapid changes in technologies and easy accessibility to them. Each time a new technology becomes available to users, proponents and opponents arise to support or criticize the ne w technology’s effects (Wartella & Jennings, 2000). In respect to today’s communication technologies, people generally agree about their social and educational benefits and necessity. However, individuals, especially parents, have concerns over the rapid change in the technological tools and widespread use of Internet due to the potential risks that younger generations may be exposed to, such as child pornography, cyber bulling, or privacy (Anastasiades, Vitalaki, & Gertzakis, 2008; Ou, 2011). For educators, improving teaching and learning through use of technology and the Internet has very strategic importance due the widespread technology use among children. For instance, computers are widely used in school settings. Therefore, it is not surprising to see that teachers in every grade level and content area use technology to improve their teaching as well as to improve students’ learning opportunities (Gorder, 2008). Thus, teachers are prepared for a new type of classroom that is different than before (McEwe n, 2008). It also should be noted that due to easy accessibility and necessity “children are exposed to media from a very young age” (Wartella & Jennings, 2000, p. 35). Therefore, it is very important that teachers and parents work together to maximize the  benefits of children’s technology use. For the sake of students’ learning and safety, not only should teachers be aware of different technology, but parents should also keep abreast about the technologies that their children use both at home and school. Valentine and Holloway (2001) found that the way children benefit from technology use at home is highly related to parents’ perceptions. Accordingly, Orleans and Laney (2000) suggest that it is essential for parents to be aware of their children’s computer  use and help their children benefit from technology while also being aware of its side effects. Moreover, Becker (2000) reported that children use computers at home more for entertainment than for school-related purposes, which may increase the risk of computer use for children. In other words, when students spend time with computers and related technologies without  beneficial reasons, they are more likely to face negative circumstances. For instance, it is almost impossible for a parent to be aware what their children are doing on social media, such as Facebook or Twitter. In addition, the place where children use communication technologies is also important because it gets harder to adequately monitor their use when they are not in sight (Wu et al., 2014). Likewise, Wartella and Jennings (2000) emphasized that new technology also brings a greater sense of urgency about the need to monitor and improve the quality of media content (p. 39). For these reasons, the role of parents has become more essential as their children use new technologies. Parents tend to be aware of what their children are doing with new forms of communication technologies, while letting them benefit from these technologies for their educational and social development (Subrahmanyam & Greenfield, 2008). Parental involvement has a vital role on controlling the effe ct of children’s technology use. For instance, teaching children about online privacy would p rotect them from identity fraud (Moscardelli & Divine, 2007; Paine, Reips, Stieger, Joinsona & Buchanan, 2007). The level of parents’ support and care depend s on their knowledge about the technology. For example, according to Paine et al. (2007), people tend to protect themselves online more if they have more Internet experience. Therefore, it is the parents’ responsibility to remain updated on the new technologies their children use while online. According to Davies (2011), most parents tend to support their kids when they are online. This awareness is no different than what parents currently do to protect their children in any type of environment. For example, no matter how familiar or enjoyable a local park is, a parent would not leave their child unattended while playing at the park. Parents' involvement in their children's computer use is very important from various perspectives. For example, parents can help their children more with computer-based studies if they are knowledgeable about recent technologies. For instance, parents often have a role to help their children with homework. The Internet has become an essential resource for children and parents when doing their homework (Cranmer, 2006). Parents can be more helpful to their children with homework by making themselves more familiar with searching the Internet and identifying trustworthy resources. Subsequently, parents can guide their children when they need help using computers or completing specific tasks, such as searching on the Internet.  International Online Journal of Educational Sciences, 2015, 7 (4), 22-36 24 In addition, parents can be more watchful of potential harms to their children if they are familiar with recent technologies. Livingstone and Bober (2004) found that although parents are aware of the need of Internet technologies for their children to do better in school, many parents are concerned about its potential dangers. Most parents have some level of concern of their children’s technology use. According to Wa rtella and Jennings (2000), with the new type of communication technologies, parents became more concerned due to interactive roles that their children might have. They also stated that children’s interactivity “enables both greatly enriched learning as we ll as increased risk of harm” (p. 39). It is important to note that parents may not be knowledgeable about children’s interactivity on Internet ( Beale & Hall, 2007). Direct online communication via instant messaging could be given as an example of using the Internet interactively. One of the significant issues here is the distinction between perceptions of children and parents about the risk of harm of technology use. For example, a study conducted by Lim, Khoo, and Williams (2003) indicated that parents have more concerns about Internet use than their children. Moreover, according to Liau, Khoo, and Ang (2008) parents tend to underestimate their children’s misuse of the Internet, such as visiting inappropriate websites. The study also stated that parents th ink they monitor their children’s Internet use adequately while their children think that they are not monitored at all. A plausible reason for this discrepancy may be that parents are using unobtrusive means of monitoring their children’s online activities. Parents have a responsibility to keep themselves updated with the recent communication technologies and their potential threats. Subrahmanyam and Greenfield (2008) stated that parents have less knowledge about electronic communication than their children have. Thus, parents may have difficulties determining what their children are doing online. Hsiao et al. (2007) found that many parents are unaware of available technologies to protect their children from the risks of Internet. There are many ways for parents to protect their children from harm of technology use. For instance, parents’ online engagement with their children (e.g., becoming friend with them on social media) would help to monitor them (Daoty & Dworkin, 2014; Hinduja & Patchin, 2008). As Finn and Kerman (2004) suggested, training programs may also help parents and students to increase their confidence level in using Internet technology and take care of security issues with filtering software. Researchers have studied students’ and teachers’ perceptions about computers and communication technologies in terms of their benefits for educational purposes (Cranmer, 2006; Orleans & Laney, 2000; Valentine & Holloway, 2001). However, there is a dearth of research literature on parents’ views about the se technologies in terms of their risks for their children (Anastasiades, Vitalaki, & Gertzakis, 2008). The current study aims to fill this gap by bringing out parents’ perspectives about these technologies in terms of their risks. More specifically, the present study explores parents’ perceptions of their own communication technology skills, their children’s communication technology use, and the potential risks of these technologies. Furthermore, the current study offers suggestions to address parents’ co ncerns and how they may prevent their children from potential harm while participating in a communication technology environment. It is important to note that we addressed the most common technologies in this paper. Research Questions  The primary question for the current study is: To what extent are parents aware of their children’s communication technology use? To answer the main question, four research questions (RQ) are examined in this study: RQ1: What are parents’ perceptions of their own communication  technology skills compared to their children communication technology skills? RQ2: What are parents’ concerns about their children’s communication and web -based technology use?   RQ3: What are the current solutions parents’ are using to protect their chil dren from potential harms? RQ4: What are parents’ perspectives about the level of benefit and risk of communication tools and environments? Method Participants Participants were selected using a convenience sampling method from the residents of a city in Southeast Texas. Five hundred five parents responded to an online questionnaire. Although the total number of  Erhan Delen, Fatih Kaya, Nicola L. Ritter & Alpaslan Sahin   25 participants in the study was 505, there were less than 505 participants reported for the research questions  because not all participants answered each item on the questionnaire. To be included in the study, each participant had at least one school age child. The children included in the study ranged from preschool to college age. A wide range of children’s age instead of focusing of certain age group was preferred to compare younger with older children. Moreover, the participants may be considered as technologically savvy because they successfully filled out a web-based questionnaire. Among the 421 participants, 28% were male and 72% were female. Participants represented all age groups; 7% were between 20 and 30, 48% were  between 31 and 40, 39% were between 41 and 50, and 6% were 50 or above. The highest level of education parents completed included: 5% had a degree less than high school, 24% had some college experience, 39% had a college degree, and 32% had a graduate school degree. Most parents (68%) were employed full-time, 13% were employed part-time, 12% were unemployed, and 4% were retired. Most of the parents (86%) were married, 8% were divorced or separated, and 6% were single.  Procedures A web-based questionnaire was used to collect the data. The researchers contacted many school principals and school administrative officers. Then, the principals or officers invited parents to take the questionnaire via their email address in early Fall 2012. The email requested parents to choose one of two hyperlinks. The first hyperlink led the parents to the online questionnaire, while the second hyperlink allowed the parents to opt out. If a parent had more than one child, he or she was asked to consider his or her youngest child while responding to each item. Thus, the evaluation of the questionnaire was based on this criterion. When a parent completed the survey, his or her response was immediately saved to the database. The questionnaire was closed to begin analysis in late Fall 2012. No unique identifiers (e.g., name and e-mail addresses) were collected. Operational Measures A web-  based questionnaire was designed by the researchers using Qualtrics®, a software package that creates web-based questionnaires and databases. The questionnaire included 15 items and had five sections that explored demographic information (i.e., 8 items), parents’ perceptions of their communication technology skills compared to their children (i.e., 7 items representing 7 different technology platforms), parents’ areas of concern ( i.e., 6 items for 6 areas of concern), parents’ current  solutions being used to protect their children (i.e., 8 prescribed solutions), and parents’ perspectives about the level of benefit and risk of communication tools and environments (i.e., 7 items per risk and benefit representing 7 different technology platforms). In the beginning of the survey, there were instructions that informed parents if they were eligible to take the survey. If they had at least one school age child, they were able to continue with the questionnaire. Otherwise, the parent opted-out of the web-based questionnaire. Following the development of the questionnaire, expert opinions on each item, as well as the questionnaire in general, were provided. Then, some minor changes and additions were implemented on the questionnaire. Data Analyses SPSS 21 was used to analyze the data. Statistical analyses were descriptive in nature. Frequencies were calculated for the demographic information, comparison of parents’ skills with their children’ skills, parents’ concern areas, perceived risk and benefit of technology use, and parents’ solutions against potential harm of technology use. In addition, t -tests and ANOVA were conducted to compare the groups. Before comparing the groups, the required assumptions were checked and no violation was observed. A Tukey post-hoc test was performed when a result was statistically significant. Pearson correlations were also computed. Items of the questionnaire were grouped into four categories to address each research question. In each category, results were reported along with tables and figures. Findings  The purpose of this st udy was to explore parents’ perspective of their children’s communication technology use. The results section reports the results to each of the four research questions. Frequency percentages were rounded to the nearest whole percent for the sake of readability, so totals may not add up to exactly 100%.
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