Parents on Kids: Pierced Ears, Sure; But a Late Night Out – Not So Fast

GROUPS – Who are the most restrictive parents, and who's cutting some slack? You can tell by breaking parents into three groups – the most restrictive, meaning those who rule out at least eight of the 16 kids' activities tested in this poll; a middle group; and the most permissive, who rule out no more than three of the activities. It turns out there are differences.

Parents are defined in this survey as any adults who've had children, regardless of their kids' current age. The most restrictive parents are more likely to be over 65, and that's related to other parts of the group's demographic profile: more likely to have grown children, less likely to have Internet access or e-mail; more likely to be widowed or, retired. By contrast, parents whose children are still less than 18 are significantly more likely to fall into the most-permissive category, as are all parents between the ages of 30 and 64.

The most permissive also are more apt to be college graduates or postgraduates, and (in a related result) to have higher income than the most restrictive group. Whites are more apt to fall into the most permissive group. By religion, Baptists are more apt to be restrictive; non-denominational Christians and those who affiliate with no religion, most permissive.

Moms are about as restrictive as dads, though.

AGE OF CONSENT – Fifteen or 16 is the average age of consent for most of these activities – 12 out of the 16. The exceptions – again, for those who permit them at all – are using the Internet unsupervised (OK at age 14), having a cell phone (again 14), walking or biking outside the neighborhood (age 13) and, as noted, ear-piercing for girls (age 9).

In fact 27 percent of parents say ear-piercing is OK for girls younger than 6 – no other item scored more than 1 percent in that category – including 16 percent who say it's appropriate at 1 year of age. Another 20 percent say ear-piercing is appropriate between ages 6 and 11.

Only two other activities get approval for 6- to 11-year-olds from more than 5 percent of parents: walking or biking outside the neighborhood (21 percent) and having a cell phone (13 percent). In both cases, the appropriate ages cited were mainly 10 and 11, not younger.

The views measured here, it should be noted, can change – kids can be persuasive and parents can be enlightened. Among those who currently have minor children, for example, nearly nine in 10 say cell phones are appropriate at some age, but many fewer, 45 percent, think they're OK for kids age 13 and under. However in a September 2009 Pew survey, many more 13-year-olds, 73 percent, reported having cell phones. That indicates that some parents who'd intended to hold out 'til their kids were 14 or older ultimately thought better of it.

OPERATING EXPERIENCE – Older parents, at the same time, may lack some experience. While those who have fully grown kids are more restrictive on some of these issues, it's also true that many older parents raised their children before the Internet age. Such parents are more likely to say it's never appropriate for children to have social networking accounts (50 percent of parents of adult children vs. 34 percent of parents of minors). They're also slightly more likely, by 8 points, to say it's never OK for minors to use the Internet unsupervised.

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