With Digital Coming of Age, AVG’s fifth installment of its Digital Diaries research series, we learn that half of moms and dads with 14-to-17 year-olds from all over the world secretly log onto their kids’ Facebook accounts.

The research goes on to suggest that moms do more of the dirty work than dads—dirty work I’m sure many would applaud and many would deplore.

The fact that parents are prying on the sly does make me uncomfortable, but I understand what compels them to do it. How many times have we read about children meeting up or running away with much older people they met on MySpace or kids being pushed to suicide by relentless cyberbullying?

The fears are real, because the threats are real. And while there was once a time when all you had to do to check up on your kids was poke your head out the window, their backyard is now a digital one. And what goes on there isn’t easily seen.

It’s not like parents are just lurking around in the shadows, however. AVG’s research also shows parents are openly friending their teens on Facebook to monitor online activity.

Teenagers, of course, are savvy enough to set their privacy settings to control what their parents see and don’t see, but I think it’s healthy for parents to have an online presence alongside their kids’ friends just as they do in the real world. It fosters, I believe, closer relationships. It reminds kids that parents are watching, but also that we’re here to guide and to help whenever trouble enters the picture.

And here’s the important part—it might be working. To be sure, I have to think inappropriate or unsafe teen behavior on the web is more widespread than parents think, but isn’t that always the way? According to AVG, only 20 percent believe that their kids access porn or illegal music online. Only 20 percent believe their kids engage in sexting. Only 20 percent think their kids have met in person someone they first met online.

We know our kids are going to take some risks. They probably take more risks than we think. But with good parenting, hopefully they’re not taking the worst kind of risks that can get them hurt.

So how do we define good parenting when it comes to the web? My approach with my 11 year-old has been a simple one:

  • We’ve agreed I will openly check his social networking accounts, emails, browser history and cell phone, but only if he gives me good reason to do so.
  • I’ve friended him on his social networking accounts to remind him I am there, but I am not actively stalking his friends. This establishes trust on both sides.
  • I keep him educated. I email him articles that show how the web is getting kids into trouble. That my concerns are real. But I also take advantage of our web connections to grow our relationships… to talk about science, and sports, and how he’s doing.

 

In this way, the web becomes less of a private forum for him and more of a monitored schoolyard.

Is it right? I agree it’s debatable and every parent has to find their own approach, but speaking openly with your kids about their online activity is a great step forward.

But let us know what do you think about AVG’s latest research? Do you check up on your kids on the web? How are you teaching them to browse, post and connect responsibly and safely?

Let’s talk about it on Twitter or Facebook.