Our kids are always a couple steps ahead of us when it comes to technology. This means that it doesn't work too well to install parental controls, close our eyes, and cross our fingers. Study after study shows that conversations with our kids about who they are hanging out with and what they are up to in digital spaces are far more powerful than any piece of software.
That's not to say that parental controls can't be a tool in our toolkit though. How we use them though has a huge impact on whether or not they are effective in helping our kids build positive digital skills and whether they build or erode trust. Here are some tips for getting started:
- Start with a conversation. Discuss expectations about safety, kindness, and privacy online. Parental controls help verify that everyone in the family is making good choices - only you can teach them these skills.
- Tell them first, then install. The goal is to encourage responsible behavior, not to "catch" your kids being bad. Spying generally just sends our kids to more remote areas of the internet. Be clear that all devices will have parental controls before you set them up.
- Explain why. Tell your kids why you are setting parental controls but make it clear that it is not up for negotiation.
- Assure your kids that you are not a spy. Explain to your kids that you will not be reading every line of every text or post. You will merely be scanning things periodically or reading summary reports to verify that all is well.
- Follow through. Hold up your end of the agreement - don't read every line of your child's texts and posts! Parental control should build trust between you and your child, not erode it.
- Don't jump to conclusions. We often read texts and posts with very little context. Start by asking your child for context, explanation, or background of what you've seen.
- Establish limits and consequences. Make sure that you have rules and consequences for online behavior and follow through consistently.
- Involve your kids. Monitoring software can actually hold up a mirror to your child and help them reflect on their own behavior. Sometimes our kids don't realize how often they multitask or get distracted. Use these tools for reflection and goal setting not just monitoring.
- Use Internet incidents as an opportunity to communicate. Make sure that Internet incidents aren't just a platform for endless lectures or meaningless punishments. If your child is using the search term "sex" it could be that they genuinely want information about sex and sexuality. Use this as an opportunity to start important conversations, not shut them down.
P.S. Looking for ways not just to monitor content but to make it easier to put your phones down and focus on something besides a screen? Check out Three Apps That Will Help You Put Your Phone Down.
P.P.S. You might notice that we didn't review any specific parental controls. That's where Common Sense Media's Ultimate Guide to Parental Controls comes in!