| Education

How to talk with kids about Parental Control

| 02 Jan 2024

Most parents want to make sure their children benefit from the possibilities of the online world, while also making sure that they remain safe. Parental control tools help parents achieve this. But how can you discuss the use of parental control apps with your children? We looked for answers together with Jarmila Tomkova, a child psychologist.

Should parents employ parental control apps in secret, or openly discuss the use of such tools with their children?

In the long run, it is better to take the path of open conversation. Parents should be transparent with their children about their approach to internet safety, so that children have a clear understanding of their family´s rules and their own role within them. Also, by being open about your use of parental control tools, your child will not feel deceived or lied to when, not if, they find out about them.


Types of parental mediation of internet use


1.      Enabling mediation: Parental practices that aim at enabling children’s positive use of the internet.


a)      Active mediation: Talking with children about their internet use, sharing online activities, and explaining what is good and what is potentially harmful on the internet. Active mediation is the most desirable because it is connected to higher digital skills and equips children with skills necessary to interpret and deal with media content, as well as potentially bothering situations online.

b)      Technical monitoring: Using technological means to monitor children’s online use through parental control software. Monitoring provides parents with knowledge of their children’s whereabouts online – what they are doing on the internet or with the technology.


2.      Restrictive mediation: Parental practices that aim to limit their children’s use of the internet.


a)      Restrictions: Setting rules that limit what their children can access, what  activities their children can do, or how much time they can spend online. Restrictive mediation is effective in lowering online risk, but children who are more restricted also tend to have lower digital skills, leaving them less equipped to deal with problematic situations.

Apart from parental mediation, there is also reverse mediation – a situation in which tech-savvy children help their parents with various technology-related tasks or problems.

Source: EU Kids Online survey, 2020


How can parents explain the use of parental control apps to children?

In order to enjoy the many benefits of the internet, we need to think about safety. Parents should not be indifferent to online risks, but neither should they treat the whole internet as dangerous. Instead, we should motivate kids to use the internet responsibly, and employ the tools that make it safer to be online. This is not a sign of control, but a gesture of care and love. If the child sees this from a very young age, they grow up feeling like the use of safety tools such as parental control is not an oppression to be bucked, but rather a gift of love.

“Parental control tools are not here to take our children’s privacy away. They are here because we love our children, and we want to take care of their safety.”

When it comes to setting the boundaries for internet use, should parents include their children in the decision making?

Yes, especially when it comes to older kids, over the age of 10. You will need to discuss the websites they want to visit, and the amount of time they want to spend online. When kids are involved in the decision making, they are less likely to hate the rules you have set and rebel against them.


But some kids will still try to push the limits, right?

Of course, especially teenagers. But that is perfectly fine. Parents sometimes see it as a sign of failure when children rebel against their rules. But this is a misapprehension. In fact, we may better see small acts of rebellion as a sign of our children's cleverness and ability to think critically. Another common but false notion is that parents often think that they must always make their children happy. Children do not need to be pleased with our rules, but they do need to feel that we support them, protect them, talk openly with them and provide them with a safety net that is always within their reach.

When parents use parental control tools, do they still need to discuss the online risks with their kids?

The use of parental control apps is not a gateway to escape a difficult conversation. On the contrary, the use of these tools can lead to important discussions. Parental control apps may, for instance, warn parents that their child has tried to visit a restricted website. This is not a reason for parents to punish the child or tighten their rules, but it is a sign that some topics may need further discussion. So too using parental control apps does not mean that we will have completely shielded our children from inappropriate content. It may be shown to them by their friends, or they may search for it on public devices. But the use of parental control apps in combination with open discussions with your children can limit their access to such content and minimize the trauma that can be caused by stumbling across something disturbing or inappropriate online.

“We need to talk with children about the internet from an early age. We should discuss the different things that can be found online and let children learn. But also, we should let them teach us about their own experience and tell us about the reasons they enjoy being online. This way, children become active participants confident from knowing that they can rely on their parents when they need them. Parents should enable stability – not only through rules and restrictions, but also through empathy and long-term open communication.”

Can't parents just trust their children not to visit inappropriate websites or behave unsafely?

Trust and protection are not mutually exclusive. We can trust our children to be responsible and safe, but we should also do our best to secure their experience. We can even say: "When you go on your computer, you can do different things – play games, talk to your friends, study. You have freedom and privacy in that sense. We are just making sure that others, who do not have our trust, do not hurt you.” Parental control applications do not take away children's privacy, they just restrict access to websites or behaviours that cross the safe line.

What if the kids say: “But my friends can spend more time on their phone and visit whichever websites they want”?

We can say that every family is different and there is nothing wrong with having different rules for internet use. On the other hand, if our child uses this argument, it may make us think: “Are our rules reasonable, or too strict?” And this is a good thing. Having access to information is a right that your child has. If we are too restrictive and make it simply impossible for them to access information, we may be violating their rights and making it difficult for them to learn to work with the internet safely and critically. However, if we think it through and base our rules on reason, we are better able to explain our standpoint to our kids. We may just have to accept that they may not be fully happy about our decisions, but surprisingly, this is often not the case. The EU Kids Online survey shows that in most countries, most children follow their parents’ recommendations regarding safe internet use. 

“Even Bill Gates or Steve Jobs, some of the most famous people in technology, limited their children's screen time. So, when our children want to compare their situation with others, we can say: ‘Well, even those who invented these technologies know that they need to be used sensibly and within limits.’”

If we need to restrict our children's access to the internet, does that mean that the online world is, as a whole, dangerous?

Not at all. Opportunity and risk often go hand in hand. Social media can benefit children in many ways – they can communicate with their friends, express themselves and explore their creativity. Of course, there are risks that parents need to be aware of, such as cyberbullying or grooming. But if parents focus only on the dangers, they may be robbing their children of the many opportunities. Parental control apps allow children to enjoy the benefits of the internet while eliminating some of the possible risks.


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