Tag Archives: Pew Research

How Digitally Savvy Are You?

By Tracey Dowdy

A recent Pew Research Center survey found that Americans’ understanding of technology-related issues “varies greatly depending on the topic, term or concept.”

The survey consisted of ten questions designed to test Americans’ knowledge across a broad range of digital topics, “such as cybersecurity, or the business side of social media companies. The median number of correct answers was four. Only 20% of adults answered seven or more questions correctly, and just 2% got all ten questions correct.”

To be fair, some of the questions are a little obscure, and even someone like me who regularly reports on digital matters wouldn’t necessarily be able to answer. For example, only 15% of adults correctly identified a recognize a picture of Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey

The survey was conducted in June 2019, with data collated from the 4,272 respondents to the test. 

Some of the results: 

  • 49% weren’t clear on what private browsing does
  • Only 30% knew that “https://” means that info entered on a website is encrypted
  • Only 28% accurately identified an example of two-factor authentication
  • 67% knew that phishing scams could take place across a variety of platforms
  • Only 24% of Americans are aware that “private browsing” or “incognito mode” only hides the user’s online activity from other individuals using the same computer, and does not mean the user’s actions are masked or not being tracked by the websites, the ISP, or even an employer if the browsing is being done on a work computer. 

Unsurprisingly, younger adults generally scored higher than older adults across digital knowledge questions, as did those with a bachelor’s or advanced educational degree. 

For example, 18- to 29-year-olds correctly answered a median of five out of 10 questions, compared to a median correct response of three among those ages 65 and older.

“Adults with a bachelor’s or advanced degree and those under the age of 50 tend to score high on these questions,” Pew said. “Adults with a bachelor’s or advanced degree answered a median of six questions correctly, compared with four correct answers by those who have attended college, but have not obtained a degree and three by those with a high school diploma or less.”

Only one in five adults answered 70% or more of the questions correctly, and only 2% answered all ten questions correctly.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Mommy vs. Nana – The Fight Over the Right to Post a Child’s Image

By Tracey Dowdy

I recently polled parents on my Facebook page, asking, “If you’ve chosen not to share pictures of your kids, how do you broach the subject with grandparents or others who don’t respect your rules and post their photo anyway? Also, what is your primary reason for not sharing their photo? Privacy? The child’s right to curate their own social media?” As I expected, some of the responses were adamant about privacy, others were less concerned, and some were just funny, like the dad who responded with a meme that said, “I told my mom that she was invading my privacy and she said I came out of her privacy.”

It’s a question more, and more parents are asking as our online privacy and personal information continue to be compromised. Platforms who swore our data was safe – I’m looking at you Facebook – have been exposed as vulnerable to breaches. If even Pentagon computers can get hacked, how secure are the rest of us, the ones who tick the box saying we’ve read the Terms and Conditions but never have?

For years, privacy experts have been warning us about the risks of exposing your personal life online, and parents are beginning to listen. Years ago when mommy-blogging was at its peak, and Facebook was taking off, personal information like the first day of school pictures included the name of the child’s school or geotags with the family vacation resort tagged were common. Contrast that with parents today who are choosing to keep those details limited to private groups of close friends and family or offline completely.

Part of the problem seems to be generational. While Baby Boomers didn’t grow up with today’s tech ubiquity, they have embraced it as passionately as younger generations. According to Pew Research, 90%+ of adults over 60 own a computer or laptop, 70% have a smartphone, and 40% have a tablet. Boomers also represent 1/3 of all online and social media users. Boomers are especially fond of Facebook, with 65% saying it’s their preferred social media network.

That love for Facebook, coupled with their love for their grandchildren is at the heart of growing tension between young parents and their own parents. The biggest threat to your family’s cyber-security may not be Russian hackers – it’s Nana.

 Lena, one of the moms who responded to my poll, posted a screenshot and captioned it, “Family member currently with a pic of my baby as their profile pic.” The photo had been published without Lena’s consent.

Another respondent, Sophia,* has a private Facebook group for her newborn. Under a recent photo of the child, a relative asked how she could share the pictures as there’s no “Share” button under the post. When Sophia explained they prefer to keep the images limited to close family and friends, the family member objected. Sophia once again respectfully explained her position and included a link to the story of an American teen who discovered a photo of her had used in a Virgin Mobile Australia campaign without her consent. The family member countered with “these things happen… but why should that stop the joy of our friends and family from seeing our offspring… I respect your decision but had to voice my opinion.”

Several respondents sent private messages lamenting their parent’s refusal to accept their choice to limit their child’s online presence. “My mom constantly tags herself in my photos. I don’t know a lot of her friends and even worse, her profile is set to “public” so who even knows who is seeing those pictures of my kids?”

That’s an important question. One of the respondents to the poll cautioned, “I don’t share pictures of any of my 19 nieces/nephews, or any other children. I have only accepted if adults share pictures on my timeline; and only after I have reviewed them or if they give me direct consent. I work in law enforcement and am aware of more than I would like to know about pedophilia; personal identity theft; and the like.”

It’s a global issue leading some countries such as France to implement much more stringent privacy laws than here in America. French parents have been warned to stop posting pictures of their children on social media platforms or face the possibility of being sued for violating the child’s right to privacy or jeopardizing their personal security. The penalties are as harsh as one year in prison and a fine of €45,000 ($50,000) if convicted of publicizing the intimate details of the private lives of others —including their children – without their expressed consent.

Here in the US, the likelihood of such a suit succeeding is unlikely. There’s no legal precedent or laws concerning oversharing, and parents could claim the suit is a violation of their First Amendment rights.  There’s also the parent-child immunity doctrine — the legal notion that a child cannot bring legal action against his or her parents for torts, or civil wrongs, parents inflict while the child is a minor.

Parenting coach Ray FitzGerald recommends following the three P rules of posting. “There’s privacy (“Make sure your privacy settings aren’t public. Treat your child’s private images like your Social Security number and don’t hand it out like digital candy”); perception (“If you wouldn’t want a similar picture of yourself shared, then you likely shouldn’t share one of your child”); and permission (a rule he admits mostly applies to older kids).”

*Name changed by request for privacy purposes

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

The Great Homework Debate

By Tracey Dowdy

Michelle’s eleventh grader has at least three hours of homework a day, seven days a week, while Jacki’s daughter, also in eleventh grade but at a different school, hardly ever has homework, and if she does, gets it done on her own. Sunny’s fourth graders attend a no-homework school, but they’re expected to read at home and to study for tests and Virginia’s Standards of Learning (standardized testing), while Jacqueline’s 4th grade son gets what his teacher refers to as “unhomework,” and students can choose whether or not to do it. Stephanie, a teacher herself, says, “My 3rd grader has had the exact same homework assignment every single night for the entire school year. He’s bored out of his mind. It used to take him about 15 minutes and now he can easily spend an hour on it, not because it’s long or difficult…just because it’s that boring. Homework should be used for students to practice what they learn in class, not just as something to do.”

Homework has once again come under fire as studies have shown the extra work outside the classroom may not be as effective as we’ve been told. A hundred years ago, educators and critics determined that homework made students “unduly stressed,” and so many school districts banned it for students under seventh grade. But, when the Cold War came along with its fear of American kids falling behind their Soviet counterparts, homework saw a resurgence, only to fall out of fashion once again during the progressive 1960s and 1970s when critics lamented that it was stifling student creativity and expression. Attitudes flip-flopped again in April of 1983 when then-President Ronald Reagan encouraged the press to publicize a government report warning of “a rising tide of mediocrity” eroding the American educational system.

For years, the “10-minute rule” has been the standard for assigning homework, meaning a daily maximum of 10 minutes of homework per grade level. So, third graders should have no more than 30 minutes of homework a night, while seniors in high school can expect about two hours of homework each night. Both the National PTA and the National Education Association support this standard. However, according to research by Pew, every day, American teenagers are averaging twice as much time spent on homework as their predecessors did back in the 1990s. It’s not just high schoolers. A 2015 study by  The American Journal of Family Therapy discovered that despite expert’s recommendations that Kindergarteners have zero homework assignments, many were spending up to 25 minutes a night on it.

Joy Ashford, a teacher with over 18 years of experience in the classroom and leadership roles in education, says, “Homework is completely unnecessary before Jr. High/Sr. High. In elementary, it’s helpful to have parents read with their child(ren) but, when that is given as essential homework, you are creating a divide between kids who don’t have that supportive network in their home. I’ve taught all three levels of school – elementary, middle, (and) high school. In elementary, I only asked kids to read at home and I made sure I had time to read with them during the day so no one was left out. (For) Junior/Senior high, I feel the value of homework is to create work habits and skills. Never to cover new material and never a punishment. I think it’s so much more important to “play”… Homework for the sake of homework is not the hill I’m willing to die on.”

School districts and educators are becoming more conscious of Ashford’s point that homework often creates a divide between the haves and the have nots. Not all students have a parent or caregiver able to assist with difficult concepts, access to the internet, and a quiet or safe space in which to study, meaning students without such support are at risk of falling behind their peers based solely on access to resources, not ability. In a 2016 report, “The Condition of Education,” the National Center for Education Statistics found that children living in poverty were likely to experience lower levels of academic performance “beginning in kindergarten and extending through elementary and high school.”

A 2006 study by Duke University psychology professor Harris Cooper found that high school students who did homework performed better in school overall. However, the correlation was stronger for students grades seven through twelve—for students in elementary school, there was a weak relationship between homework and performance. Cooper’s report demonstrated that while homework improves study habits, attitudes toward school, develops self-discipline, curiosity, and independent problem-solving skills, some research showed that homework could lead to both physical and emotional fatigue, lead to negative attitudes about learning, and interfere with recreation and play time for children. After all his research, Cooper recommended that further study of the potential effects of homework is necessary.

Stephanie, a former high school teacher, now teaching at the college level, says, “At some point, students do need to get used to homework/projects/essays/studying at home if they are enrolled in college prep classes because they need to be prepared for college… One of the biggest concerns at the college level is that students are not coming in with study skills because a lot of high schools have eliminated homework and many are providing outlines/notes for their students instead of requiring them to be able to take their own notes. About 80% of the students at the college I work at are classified as underprepared (however we’re an open admission institution which will always be higher, but that gives you an idea of how well high schools are preparing their students for higher education).”

Perhaps the best answer is from a note Holly found in her sons’ room entitled “Declaration of Independence,” that I think sums up the attitude of more than just 4th-grade boys like himself. “We should start war wiht teachers. Stop homework…we will teach teachers not to be so rude to us. Homework is wrong.” Holly says, “You’ll note that the penmanship and spelling could use some attention, so I’ll say not all of the homework is a total waste of time.”


Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.