Parents versus Peers - how these groups influence the Internet Ethical Attitudes of Generation Y

Generation Y, the generation born between 1980-2000 [1], are the first generation to have grown-up with the Internet, and as well as having access to the countless sources of news and information the web provides they have also been able to engage in unethical online activities, such as viewing or disseminating pornography, committing plagiarism and pirating software.

Here we define Web Ethics as 'how right or wrong consumers feel an online activity is'. Web ethics research into Generation Y has looked at the role of technology in teenage moral development, the ethical awareness of technology-related issues, how ethical illegal acts are seen, and differences in downloaders and non-downloaders. Research in this area however has neglected the role of social factors.

Social learning theory suggests that social learning comes from numerous sources in a child's upbringing, such as peers, school, religion and culture. One of the most dominant sources of moral guidance of course is parents. However, young people also learn from direct and indirect interaction with peers; through discussions, rulemaking, reinforcement and modeling. In particular, 'digital natives' [2] have an inclination to trust peer opinion and public consensus rather than established data sources. In some cases they have entirely integrated their social lives and their electronic gadgets.

This raises several questions such as: which is more important in shaping young people's online ethics; parenting style or peer influence? If there is an effect, how big is it and is any particular parenting style more effective than another?

Some parents encourage discussion and verbalisation. In such a permissive and encouraging environment, children are likely to explore the Internet more and be exposed to more unethical activities as they develop their own sense of what is right and wrong in discussion with their parents. Thus, we hypothesise that parenting that encourages verbalisation is positively related to Generation Y's attitudes towards online unethical activities.

Other parents are more protective. With such protection, clear and consistent standards and the expectation of self-regulation, children are more likely to be ethical. Thus, we hypothesise that a protective parenting style is positively related to Generation Y's attitudes towards online unethical activities.