Dworkin, J., Connell, J., & Doty, J. (2013). A literature review of parents’ online behavior. Cyberpsychology: Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace, 7(2), article 2. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.5817/CP2013-2-2
A literature review of parents’ online behavior

A literature review of parents’ online behavior

Jodi Dworkin1, Jessica Connell2, Jennifer Doty3
1,2,3 Department of Family Social Science, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN, USA

Abstract

The purpose of this literature review was to compile and analyze the research that has been conducted on parents’ use of the Internet and determine what we know about how parents use the Internet in everyday life. A comprehensive literature review focusing on studies that have asked parents about their Internet use was conducted to include research published through December 2011. This yielded 27 studies. Articles were summarized and then organized by content. Three main themes emerged: what parents are doing online, social support online, and the digital divide. This literature review revealed that parents go online to search for parenting information and social support and generally report satisfaction with the resources they find on the Internet. Parents still express hesitation in trusting various online resources, though, and desire greater education in Internet searching and deciphering the credibility of online information. In addition, this review also exposes gaps in current research, provides direction for future research, and has implications for how to effectively reach parents using the Internet.

Keywords: parenting; literature review; education; Internet use

doi: 10.5817/CP2013-2-2

Introduction

Technology and the Internet in particular have drastically changed the way we receive information, interact with others, entertain ourselves, make plans, and organize our lives (Shirkey, 2008). Although technology use is increasing among all populations (Martin & Robinson, 2007; National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), 2011), parents are more connected to and enthusiastic about technology than non-parents. In 2002, 70% of parents in the U.S. used the Internet compared to 53% of non-parents; 79% of parents in the U.S. used computers compared to 63% of non-parents (Allen & Rainie, 2002). More recently, broadband access among U.S. households with children was between 63% and 84% compared to 55% of households without children (NTIA, 2011). Similarly, Internet access among households with children has been found to outpace access among households without children in Canada and England (Statistics Canada, 2010; UK Statistics Authority, 2010). Although it is clear that parents are active Internet users, lack of a coherent body of research has resulted in only scattered knowledge about parents’ actual online behavior.

Previous literature reviews have examined how parents receive information and support on the Internet. Daneback and Plantin identified themes and trends in available literature by reviewing articles about parenthood and the Internet published in medical, educational, and social science journals (Daneback & Plantin, 2008; Plantin & Daneback, 2009). They found that the majority of parents search for information and social support on the Internet, and there are considerable differences by gender, age, and income. Limited parenting resources available from one’s own parents and existing networks may serve as an impetus for parents to go online for information and support (Plantin & Daneback, 2009). Daneback and Plantin (2008) identified four themes based on their review of 94 articles: analyses of the quality of websites for parents, examination of how parents use the Internet to search for information, online support groups, and interventions. However, although they identified 94 articles, they revealed that there is a lack of research focused on how parents use the Internet in everyday life. The current literature review addresses these gaps and provides an overview of the state of the field on parents’ use of the Internet.

Purpose

The purpose of this literature review was to compile and analyze the research that has been conducted on parents’ use of the Internet and determine what we know about how parents use the Internet in everyday life. This review was designed to help us identify limitations in current research and directions for future research. In addition, this review has important implications for how to effectively reach parents using the Internet.

Methods

A comprehensive literature review, encompassing research published through December 2011, was conducted using Google Scholar, PsychInfo, and Academic Search Premier. This review focused on finding studies that have asked parents about their Internet use. To ensure a comprehensive literature review, parenting keywords were combined with technology keywords resulting in 35 terms (6 parent terms, 29 technology terms; see Table 1). Next, descendent and ancestry searches were conducted to identify additional articles (Arksey & O’Malley, 2005). When it was unclear if the article fit the criteria, the authors held group discussions to reach consensus (see Figure 1).

Table 1. Keywords Used for Literature Search.
fig

In the present review, we focused specifically on what parents do online. “Online” refers to the activities performed when accessing the Internet, such as using Skype, sending or reading e-mail, going on Facebook, reading or writing a blog, or any other activities related to the Internet. Use refers to the patterns of behavior in an online environment. For example, parents’ behavior on discussion boards and parenting websites has revealed patterns of gathering information and garnering emotional support (Brady & Guerin, 2010; Drentea & Moren-Cross, 2005; Madge & O’Connor, 2006). We focused on “use” rather than the content of online parenting resources.

fig
Figure 1. Summary of Literature Review Method using Google Scholar,
PsychInfo, and Academic Search Premier.

To be included in the review, articles had to be empirical studies published in a peer-reviewed journal in English. The sample of each study needed to include parents or parents’ online activities (e.g., discussion board posts) and focus on use of the Internet. Articles were excluded if recruitment occurred exclusively via hospitals or clinics, if the primary aim of the study was to test the efficacy or effectiveness of an online medical or therapeutic intervention, or if the primary aim of the study was to learn about how parents whose children had specific medical conditions used the Internet to search for information about that condition. This resulted in a total of 27 articles (see Appendix). Approximately half of these articles focused primarily or entirely on mothers. Articles were summarized and then organized by content. Three main themes emerged: what parents are doing online, social support online, and the digital divide.

Results

What Parents Are Doing Online

When online, parents reported using the Internet to help them do things they already do offline: 26% of parents reported the Internet improved how they spend time with children, 19% reported the Internet improved how they cared for children’s health, and 73% of parents reported that the Internet helped them learn new things (Allen & Rainie, 2002). The majority of parents used the Internet for work purposes (Dowdell, 2013); those parents who perceived that the Internet allowed them to work at home reported better communication with their family and increased family time than those who did not (Williams & Merten, 2011). Parents were more likely to access health, lifestyle-enhancing, and religious information than non-parents (Allen & Rainie, 2002). Further, 46% of parents reported the Internet gave them more control over their lives compared to 39% of non-parents; just 10% of parents said the Internet gave them less control over their lives compared to 17% of non-parents (Allen & Rainie, 2002).

Research has revealed that parents go online for varied reasons, including to look for information about normative development and health, to identify resources, and to build social support (e.g., Walker, Dworkin, & Connell, 2011). However, gaps remain in what we know about how parents use the Internet in everyday life and in their parenting role.

Looking for parenting information. Despite the recent emergence of creative activities like gaming and blogging, parents still primarily use the Internet for information seeking (Nichols, Nixon, Pudney, & Jurvansuu, 2009; Walker et al., 2011), and more specifically for gathering parenting information (Bernhardt & Felter, 2004; Madge & O’Connor, 2006; Radey & Randolph, 2009; Warren, Allen, Okuyemi, Kvasny, & Hecht, 2010). Parents described preferring parenting information that was self-administered, for example online programs, television programs, and written materials (Metzler, Sanders, Rusby, & Crowley, 2011). When parents search for information online, they are often searching for information related to their child’s normative development, specific medical diagnoses, or strategies for developmentally-appropriate parenting (Bernhardt & Felter, 2004).

Evidence suggests that parents also use the Internet as a source of medical information (e.g., Bernhardt & Felter, 2004). However, some studies found that parents often did not discuss information they found online related to their child’s medical diagnoses with their doctor (Berkule-Silberman, Dreyer, Huberman, Klass, & Mendelsohn, 2010). This could be because some parents reported that information found online was supplementing information received from their doctor rather than replacing discussions with their doctor and information received during primary care visits (Bouche & Migeot, 2008). Some mothers reported going online to seek information in support of their own beliefs because advice offered by their doctor conflicted with other information they had received or conflicted with their values (Bernhardt & Felter, 2004). Overall, parents reported more confidence and a greater sense of empowerment in their role as a parent as a result of searching for information online (Madge & O’Connor, 2006).

Parents have also sought information about their children’s online activities on the Internet. In one study, 77% of parents of middle school children reported monitoring their children’s Internet use by checking their online history (Dowdell, 2013). Further, 96%-98% of parents of middle school children reported looking at the screen when their children were on the Internet. In fact, co-Internet use is frequent, with 53.5% of parents reporting that they go online with another family member at least several times a week (Williams & Merten, 2011).

Trustworthiness and credibility of information. Parents have described the Internet as a convenient and comfortable way to gather information (Warren et al., 2010). However, they have also argued for needing more sites relevant to parents’ day-to-day life, especially for low income, vulnerable populations. Parents indicated preferring online information provided by clinical professionals and online parenting advice provided by other parents (Bernhardt & Felter, 2004). In response to these preferences, mothers described a variety of strategies to determine which websites to trust for health and parenting information (Bernhardt & Felter, 2004). For example, mothers indicated that commercial based sites were less trustworthy than sites run by universities or medical professionals. Consequently the Internet domain type (.edu, .org, .gov, etc.) played a role in parents’ determination of reliability of information; educational Internet domains (.edu) were perceived as more reliable (Bernhardt & Felter, 2004). To determine trustworthiness, mothers also reported evaluating websites based on the number of outside advertisements on the site and whether the primary motive of the website owners was to sell products (Bernhardt & Felter, 2004). If the website owners appeared to have little or nothing to gain financially from putting the information online, mothers were more likely to trust the website (Bernhardt & Felter, 2004). When seeking information and advice on specific experiences such as child behavior and parenting, mothers found other parents to be particularly credible (Bernhardt & Felter, 2004). This may be especially true when parents form a bond in an online environment (Drentea & Moren-Cross, 2005). Regardless, mothers on one discussion board still reported taking online information from other parents “with a grain of salt” (p. 937), and following advice only if they perceived it to be credible.

Another strategy used to assess the trustworthiness of websites was to identify and evaluate the source of the information presented on the website. When the source of the information could be determined, mothers were most trusting of information written by physicians and nurses (Bernhardt & Felter, 2004). Parents reported that perceived trust of specific web sources could increase over time as they became more familiar with the source (e.g., reading the same author on multiple sites). Alternatively, if information presented by two experts was contradictory, parents were less likely to trust the source. Information repetition and convergence was also important to mothers, information appearing several times in many different places was considered to be more trustworthy than information that was not repeated (Bernhardt & Felter, 2004).

Given that parents have generally reported searching for parenting information on the Internet using keyword searches on search engines, it is not surprising they also reported being concerned about the reliability and trustworthiness of information found on the Internet (Nichols et al., 2009). Nichols and colleagues (2009) found that over half of parents reported using Google Search to search for information regarding children’s learning and development.

Social Support Online

Parents reported using online discussion boards, community-based communication systems, message centers, and e-mail to develop connections with other parents and professionals. Parents reported using these electronic communication systems to share information about community programs and plan opportunities to meet in person (Hall & Irvine, 2008; Valaitis & Sword, 2005). Parents also reported using these platforms to share thoughts and ideas about parenting, normalize their experiences as a parent by trying to determine whether or not symptoms, behaviors, or circumstances they were experiencing were normal (Drentea & Moren-Cross, 2005), and confirm parenting approaches that other parents suggested (Hall & Irvine, 2008; Nichols et al., 2009). Parents often ended discussion board posts with, “Is this normal?” to solicit other parents’ experiences of similar behaviors and symptoms (Drentea & Moren-Cross, 2005). Parents also reported seeking other parents’ expertise on discussion boards (Brady & Guerin, 2010; Fletcher & St. George, 2011). For example, many parents posting on a discussion board felt that sometimes medical decisions related to pregnancy were based on the needs of the doctor or the hospital and not the family, and subsequently used the discussion board to ask other parents how they made medical decisions regarding their children (Brady & Guerin, 2010). E-mail groups also functioned as a mechanism allowing parents to both give and receive support from each other. For example, parents reported using the Internet to find and communicate with other parents and families who were in similar situations (Erera & Baum, 2009; Hall & Irvine, 2009).

Parents have described online parenting web sites and discussion boards as generally safe, supportive places where parents can better understand the role they play as a parent to their children (Brady & Guerin, 2010; Fletcher & St. George, 2011; Madge & O’Connor, 2006). Specifically, through sharing experiences and advice with other parents, discussion forum members developed a base of knowledge about parenting to use as a personal frame of reference for their own experiences (Brady & Guerin, 2010; Drentea & Moren-Cross, 2004). Parents can also provide and receive information in anticipation of childrearing difficulties that are shared by other parents such as infant sleep, breastfeeding, and balancing work and family life (Hall & Irvine, 2008; Nichols et al., 2009). For example, if a new mother had a question about breastfeeding, she could access a prior discussion documenting two dozen personal experiences of other mothers (Drentea & Moren-Cross, 2004). However, not all online communities are safe. Brady and Guerin (2010) describe online disputes among parents, and Dowdell (2013) reports that 2-4% of parents admit intentionally harassing someone online.

An important finding from several studies was that parents who participated in online support groups felt that participation in these groups helped alleviate feelings of isolation (Chan, 2008; Erera & Baum, 2009; Fletcher & St. George, 2011; Valaitis & Sword, 2005). One study found that mothers who used an online discussion board experienced enhanced social capital, defined as the “resources embedded in social structures that are accessed and/or mobilized in purposive actions” (Drentea & Moren-Cross, 2005, p. 922). Mothers who participated in an online discussion board reported that the support they received encouraged them to take more responsibility in their role as a parent; fathers however, have been subtly discouraged from fully participating in parenting in this female-dominated online environment (Fletcher & St. George, 2011; Hall & Irvine, 2008; Madge & O’Connor, 2006). Discussion boards and social support websites have been found to play a role in parents’ recognition of their own expertise and knowledge; parents reported feeling validated when they were concerned about their doctors’ advice and found support for their own views on the Internet (Brady & Guerin, 2010). However, Dowdell (2013) voiced concern that over half of parents connect with strangers online, a risky behavior that is discouraged for their children.

Social media. Although social media such as blogs and social networking sites have become widely used by parents in the last several years (Hall & Bishop, 2009), few empirical studies have investigated whether social media is used by parents to seek support. Although there are no data publicly available on the number of parents who use online tools like blogs and social networking sites, three main reasons for using social media have been cited: staying in touch, documenting life experiences, and coping with stressors (McDaniel, Coyne, & Holmes, 2012).

Social media has become a creative means of maintaining contact with friends and family. McDaniel and colleagues (2012), in their study of 157 new mothers, found that 86% of new mothers who were blogging did so to stay in touch with others. Documenting life experiences was another reason parents cited for using social media, especially in the first year of their baby’s life. Of new mothers who reported blogging, 89% did so to document personal experiences (McDaniel et al., 2012). Blogging predicted feelings of connection to family and friends, which in turn predicted perceptions of social support. Although these mothers used social networking sites significantly more frequently than blogging sites, social networking was not significantly related to feeling connected or to perceptions of social support (McDaniel et al., 2012). In a study of the lived experience of first-time fatherhood from the perspective of military men deployed to combat regions during their child’s birth, a common theme that emerged was communication, as fathers learned about the birth via e-mail and telephone. Though e-mail was the most commonly used method of communication, couples also used social media to stay in touch (e.g., YouTube, instant messaging, social media; Schachman, 2010).

The Digital Divide

Research on the digital divide (more recently some researchers have started to refer to “digital differences”) highlights the disparity between low socioeconomic status (SES) and high SES families. Research has focused on adults in general and in particular on limited access to technology and the Internet, and patterns of use that may reflect technological stratification (DiMaggio, Hargittai, Celeste, & Shafer, 2004). Some have suggested that the digital divide in the United States may be closing as the availability of technology becomes ubiquitous (Martin & Robinson, 2007; Warschauer, 2008). However, going beyond access to investigate variables such as actual use and Internet search skills is important in understanding how the digital divide still exists and may perpetuate inequality by limiting access to information, investments, and employment opportunities (DiMaggio et al., 2004; Hargittai, 2010; Martin & Robinson, 2007; Warschauer, 2008). Researchers have started to explore parents’ experience of the digital divide (differences by age, education, and income) in terms of disparities in access, use, skill level and comfort.

Access. Research has found that parents’ access to technological devices and Internet services was positively associated with SES, but that the gap may be shrinking. Kind and colleagues (2005) found that among a low income, low education sample of parents, those with the lowest income were least likely to have access to a computer at home (Kind, Huang, Farr, & Pomerantz, 2005). Consistent with this, higher income and education have been associated with higher Internet use among parents (Allen & Rainie, 2002; Kind et al., 2005; Rothbaum, Martland, & Jannsen, 2008). In contrast, Sarkadi and Bremberg (2004) surveyed 2,221 users of a large Swedish parenting website and found no difference in education of users compared to the general population. Furthermore, the majority of respondents had income levels at or below the national average. These findings may be due in part to socioeconomic differences between countries (Martin & Robinson, 2007). Overall, although some studies suggest a digital divide among parents in terms of access to the Internet, findings are mixed.

Use. The digital divide also suggests a difference in how parents use technology and the Internet based on socioeconomic factors (income and education in particular). Some studies found that higher income parents were more likely to find information about children and families online and used the web for more activities than lower income parents (Rothbaum et al., 2008). Rothbaum and colleagues (2008) found that lower income parents tended to be more satisfied with the information they found than higher income parents, which could be attributable to differences in parents’ evaluation of the credibility of information found on the Internet, or different expectations about the quality of the information they would find online.

Radey and Randolph (2009) reported that highly educated parents were more likely to seek parenting information online than those with less education. Authors argued that this finding implies that a “knowledge gap” exists, as individuals with low education may not have the same opportunities to access and process online information as those with high education. In a sample of African American parents with high levels of computer (84%) and Internet access (74%), only 14% of parents used the Internet to find health information (Cohall, Cohall, Dye, Dini, & Vaughan, 2004). Further, the majority of these parents expressed the desire to improve their Internet skills. In another sample of African American mothers with low income and low education, however, 58% had searched for health information online even though only 41% had Internet access at home (Kind et al., 2005). Together these studies imply that parents with low income and education encounter barriers to seeking online information. A study based on the Pew American Life data found evidence that teens may compensate for parents who do not go online for information seeking. Parents with low education were more likely than parents with high education to have teens who were going online to search for health information; parents who did not go online were more likely to have teens who searched for information than parents who did go online (Zhao, 2009).

With regard to the digital divide, parents’ use of the Internet for social activities has not been studied in the same depth as information seeking, and research findings that do exist are inconclusive. Though at least one source has found that high income individuals were more likely to engage in social networking than low income individuals (Nielsonwire, 2009), a more recent study on parents’ online activities found no differences in the frequency of parents’ online social activities by income after age and education were taken into account (Doty, Dworkin, & Connell, 2012). On a Swedish website, being a single parent and having lower income and education were related to higher levels of online social support, suggesting there may be benefits of online social activities for high-risk groups of parents (Sarkadi & Bremberg, 2004). Given the explosion of social networking in the last few years, additional research is needed to clarify these mixed results.

Skills and comfort. In contrast to these findings, other scholars have proposed a digital divide among parents as a result of skills and comfort, rather than income or education. It may not be the lack of interest, but in fact the lack of familiarity that some parents have with computers and the Internet that hinders parents from using technology (Cohall et al., 2004; Linebarger & Chernin, 2003). Walker and colleagues (2011) proposed that parents who were more comfortable with the Internet may use technology more frequently, while at the same time, parents who use the Internet more frequently may feel more comfortable with technology.

In sum, though access to computers and the Internet has become wide-spread, inequalities in access, use, skill and comfort remain for parents. Differences in parents’ information seeking behaviors may be especially concerning in the current information economy. Exploring the complexities of the digital divide will be important in future research.

Discussion

Limitations of Past Research and Future Directions: Samples and Methods

Of the 27 articles included in this literature review, six had samples of less than 100 parents, ten had sample sizes between 100 and 500 parents, five had large samples of over 500 parents, and six studies did not have an exact sample size (these were content analyses of websites or posts). Thirteen studies in our sample focused either exclusively on mothers’ use of the Internet or had a sample consisting of over 75% mothers. Only three studies focused exclusively on fathers (Erera & Baum, 2009; Fletcher & St. George, 2011; Schachman, 2010), five studies had approximately even numbers of mothers and fathers, and the remainder did not specify parent gender. It is unclear whether the overwhelming focus on mothers and mothering is due to sampling strategies, the possibility that mothers are more likely to use the Internet and other technology to seek information and social support than fathers, or the suggestion that many online parenting resources are not welcoming to fathers (Hall & Irvine, 2008). In fact, most of the parents posting on parenting discussion boards are mothers (Brady & Guerin, 2010; Madge & O’Connor, 2006). Future research should explore fathers’ Internet use as we know little about how fathers use the Internet for parenting, and whether their use is unique and different from mothers’ use of the Internet for parenting. Information regarding the differences between mothers’ and fathers’ use of the Internet and other technology to find parenting information and seek social support could aid in the development of resources targeting either mothers or fathers, or both.

The majority of studies in our sample included an overwhelming proportion of married, Caucasian, high income, and highly educated parents. Though some research is emerging using samples of low-income and potentially vulnerable populations (Berkule-Silberman et al., 2009; Kind et al., 2005; Valaitis & Sword, 2005; Warren et al., 2010), little is known about how ethnic minority, low income, or single parents use the Internet for parenting. This is a limitation of the existing literature, as the Internet and other technology could be used to support hard-to-reach populations who may be geographically isolated from more traditional face-to-face forms of parenting information and support (Valaitis & Sword, 2005). For example, Radey and Randolph (2009) found that single parents tended to search for online parenting information more than their married counterparts.

In addition to sample limitations, there were also limitations in methods. The majority of studies in our review used convenience-sampling methods, generally limited to one geographic area or to parents of children of a certain age (mostly parents of younger children); only Allen and Rainie (2002) utilized a nationally representative sample of parents. In addition, while there is extensive research on the use of technology by adolescents and young adults, we know little about how their parents are using these same technologies. Representative samples would allow for comparison between different groups of parents (e.g., older versus younger parents) as well as aid in creating a more global understanding of how parents use the Internet and other technologies. Further, the current literature review revealed that standardized measures are not common in this field, but rather researchers designed questions specifically for a given study. This is not surprising given that most studies focused on a specific experience or issue, without the benefit of a guiding theoretical or conceptual framework, making study specific questions more appropriate.

Implications

Findings about parents’ views of trustworthiness and credibility of online information are particularly important for program development and the dissemination of information. Taken together, findings from this body of literature suggest a discrepancy in how parents determine the trustworthiness and credibility of parenting websites and their actual use of these sites. For instance, parents indicate a preference for advice from clinicians and social support from other parents, and contend that .edu domain websites are most credible and websites with advertisements are likely to be less credible. However, parents use commercial sites at very high rates (e.g., Jang & Dworkin, 2012; Romano, 2007) and these sites appear with very high rankings in a typical Internet search (e.g., Rashley, 2005). Thus, while parents may report expert information and websites with an .edu domain are preferred, the interactive, dynamic, and visually appealing components of commercial websites, along with their high visibility when using a search engine, likely make commercial sites appealing to parents when seeking practical information and support on day-to-day parenting issues. Parents, particularly mothers, often gather in the types of interactive spaces that are available in commercial parenting websites (Brady & Guerin, 2010; Drentea & Moren-Cross, 2005; Madge & O’Connor, 2006; Sarkadi & Bremberg, 2004).

Despite parents’ concerns about the credibility of online information (Bernhardt & Felter, 2004; Rothbaum et al., 2008), practitioners and scholars have clearly outlined several advantages to web-based family life education resources and programs when compared to face-to-face methods of delivery (Ebata & Dennis, 2011). The Internet and other technologies allow information and support to be available to parents at any time in ways that can supplement more traditional efforts such as parent education classes or presentations. For instance, parents participating in online communities reported satisfaction with the immediacy of support received from other parents (Drentea & Moren-Cross, 2005). Additionally, hyperlinks and multimedia features can help enhance learning by structuring information in relevant and creative ways. The Internet and other new technologies have also created opportunities for new communication communities such as news groups, listservs, chat rooms, forums, blogs, and social networking sites. These technologies allow people to meet, discuss ideas, and share their feelings in new ways (Ebata & Dennis, 2011).

For educators, the Internet provides the potential to interact with parents (e.g., collect data and reach parents with education or resources) who were previously unapproachable or unreachable with face-to-face delivery methods and provides previously unattainable information and perspectives to large numbers of diverse groups of parents (Ebata & Dennis, 2011; Madge & O’Connor, 2002). Internet resources can also be cost-effective. Web-based information is easier to maintain, update, and distribute than print resources. Technologies allow educators to build upon existing resources for parents. However, it is also important for family life educators to understand and keep up with the contexts in which learning happens (Ebata & Dennis, 2011); as technologies shift the locus of information control from the expert or teacher to the consumer or parent. Use of the Internet and other technologies gives parents control in how, where, and when they access information and support. Parents are able to access and create information based on their individual needs and ways of thinking. Learning objectives and trajectories are determined more by the consumer and less by the expert or teacher of the information (Ebata & Dennis, 2011; Sanders & Kirby, 2012). Given parents’ attraction to interactive sites over more passive educational sites, it is important for educators to design sites with an eye toward participant engagement (Hughes, Bowers, Mitchell, Curtis, & Ebata, 2012).

In addition to parent education, parents are accessing and reporting positive effects from online prevention and intervention programs (e.g., Metzler et al., 2011). In an evaluation of a six-month computer-mediated social support online community targeting young, single parents (Dunham et al., 1998), 42 women accessed the online network over 16,000 times and provided social support to each other through online discussion forums. This online resource provided an environment for developing close personal relationships and creating a sense of community among single mothers. Overall, single mothers who participated in this online intervention reported that they felt decreased parenting stress (Dunham et al., 1998). First-time fathers who participated in an online intervention reported significantly higher parenting self-efficacy scores than fathers in a comparison group (Hudson, Campbell–Grossman, Fleck, Elek, & Shipman, 2003). The New Fathers Network showed promise for being a successful intervention for providing nursing care to first-time fathers during the transition to parenthood. In an experimental study of over 800 Singaporean parents with children under the age of six, parents who accessed an online program providing information about children’s development and tips for interacting with children, showed a statistically significant increase in knowledge of children’s speech and communication skills, children’s social skills, and children’s intellectual development. Parents who participated in the online program also reported feeling more confident that they were achieving their goals of being a successful parent (Na & Chia, 2008). Despite promising findings, unfortunately, this literature review revealed few evaluations of online programs.

Conclusion

The current literature review provides critical information on the state of the field and addresses the question: what do we know about parents’ Internet use? We know that parents go online to search for parenting information and social support and generally report satisfaction with the resources they find on the Internet. Parents still express hesitation in trusting various online resources, though, and desire greater education in Internet searching and deciphering the credibility of online information. However, this review also revealed that the available literature on parents’ use of the Internet and technologies is limited in sample and method.

Researchers must step up to the challenge of keeping pace with rapidly changing technologies. In addition, although family life educators likely feel pressure to utilize the Internet and other technologies, more information is needed about how to effectively reach parents and address the normative questions and challenges parents are experiencing. It is also critical that parents become more informed consumers of online information, acquiring the skills needed for searching and sorting through information and for identifying research based information that effectively meets their needs.

Acknowledgements

This research was supported by a Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station grant awarded to Jodi Dworkin, Ph.D.

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Hargittai, E. (2010). Digital na(t)ives? Variation in Internet skills and use among members of the “net generation.” Sociological Inquiry, 80, 92-113.

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Appendix: Summary of Key Articles Related to Parents’ Online Behavior

Appendix can be found here.



Correspondence to:
Jodi Dworkin, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Department of Family Social Science
University of Minnesota
1985 Buford Ave., 290 McNeal Hall
St. Paul, MN 55108

E-mail: jdworkin(at)umn.edu
Phone: 612-624-3732