by Shikha Das Shankar ~ Jan 24, 2019
As we saw in the first part of our series on parental control, the array of software available to monitor your child’s online activities are an effective tool to limit your child, particularly tweens and teens, from exposure to unwanted content and keeping track of their social media activities.
However, parental control apps are not the only answer to keeping your child safe on the internet. While they are preventive tools, these tools will not teach your children to practice good judgment online nor will it replace the need for parents to set clear expectations and boundaries for their children.
The Debate: Safety vs Privacy
Supporters of parental control believe that awareness is key, and in the online world, prevention is better than cure. In order to ensure their child is not being bullied or is bullying online, or he is not interacting with strangers and potentially dangerous people, it is important to use these apps. There is a strong support from parents who want to block access to pornography, online chatrooms, and other adult content that can have a negative impact on them.
By enabling rigid parental control features on home devices and their child’s smartphones, parents tend to have peace of mind. Limiting access and keeping track of their child’s online activities from text, to new social media posts, to keyword search entered by their child, parents feel they have done whatever they can to keep their child safe online.
However, any talk of parental control has the potential to spiral into a heated debated surrounding:
- Results in mistrusting children who hide more than confide
- Teen privacy
- Ethical challenges
The detractors of parental control tools believe that using parental control to monitor your teenager’s online activity is an invasion of his privacy, which he is entitled to. Stunting their independence under the cover of safety will not help them learn to stay safe on the internet. Rather the banned content might become a taboo, in turn attracting them even more towards it.
It is also important to note that it might be difficult for a parent to draw the line on how much monitoring is necessary, leading to a situation where parents are more intrusive in their teenager’s life than they should be. This control-based parenting, or helicopter parenting, may possibly lead to sneakier kids who will find a way to circumvent the parental control systems put in place by their parents.
Parental control also raises a concern about ethics. As we monitor our children on social media and have access to their messages and texts through parental control apps, we also have access to information about other children and their families. This might be unacceptable for those coming under secondary monitoring.
The dilemma of digital parenting brings a divide to our approach on parenting tweens and teens. Should we let them make mistakes as they explore the world of internet, knowing that the consequences can be potentially dangerous for them and others around them? Or should we be snoopy to the extent that they have no sense of privacy?
Is there a middle path we can take to ensure cyber safety as well as help build digital resilience in our children?
It is safe to say yes.
We agree that some amount of parental control needs to be in place as your child starts spending unsupervised time on the internet. Parental controls are a great first start to keeping children safe until they develop digital resilience. A blanket ban on inappropriate content might work for tweens but is more likely to be counterproductive for older children.
Know that parental control apps will not:
- Replace the need to mentor our kids to be digitally responsible even before they have social media profiles.
- Eliminate all inappropriate digital content from the child’s life.
- Teach them what parents can by being role models of good online behavior.
True that youngsters lack the mental defenses and emotional restraints like adults to make the right choices online. But putting excessive control over their digital life may not be beneficial to help them acquire those skills either. Keeping youngsters safe on the internet is a process that starts years before they make their grand entry on social media. We are talking years of mentoring by discussing with them the negative impact of the internet, etiquettes of using social media and setting clear expectations about how and why to use the internet from the start.
We also need to understand that children, despite our sincere efforts to mentor and monitor their online activities, will come across undesirable content. Monitoring with parental control features helps parents to be informed of such a situation, so that parents can talk to their children about why this content is inappropriate and how it can have an adverse effect on them. The need to minimize the negative impact of inappropriate content should be an important achievable goal for parental control.
A disciplined approach to internet usage can be taught to youngsters in parts by being role models of good online behavior and setting clear boundaries that include dos and don’ts of using the internet from an impressionable age. Once they do reach an age where they have social media accounts and an active online presence, basic parental control features along with one-on-one time spent on discussing your child’s internet usage is an important step in building trust between you and your tweens or teens.
Communicate and have their back
It is also important to communicate to your child the fact that you are monitoring content and the purpose of this monitoring should be clearly explained to them. As the child gets older, has shown responsible online behavior and is conscious of the possible dangers of the internet, show trust in him by giving him more freedom on the internet by letting off some of the parental control features. Mentoring done right will have your child confide in you if something in his virtual space does not feel right.
We couldn’t agree more that there are endless possibilities to surveil our kids, and that some amount of monitoring along with transparency between you and your children is necessary. But hold on to your urge to go into undercover spy mode, parents.
How do you draw the fine line between monitoring your child’s digital life and mentoring him to stay safe? Has parental control backfired on you? We would love to hear from you.
Shikha Das Shankar is a freelance storyteller. Multitasking dragon slayer mom. Happy hiker. When not writing, she loves hiking with her favorite trio—the son, the daughter and the husband or cooking her favorite foods in her de-stressing zone, the kitchen.