| Education

How to talk about parental controls

| 15 Aug 2023

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

Should parents employ parental control apps secretly or openly discuss using such tools with their children? 

In the grand scheme of things, opting for open conversation is the wiser choice. Parents need to be forthcoming with their children regarding their stance on internet safety, as this will reinforce the potential risks involved. Moreover, by openly discussing the utilisation of parental control tools, your child will not feel betrayed or misled when they inevitably discover them. Building trust is paramount if you wish to maintain an ongoing and honest dialogue.

Types of parental mediation of internet use

1. Enabling mediation: Parental practices that aim to enable children’s positive internet use.

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 the skills necessary to interpret and deal with media content and 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 do on the internet or with technology.

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

a) Restrictions: letting rules that limit what their children can access, what activities their children can do, or how much time they can spend online. Restrictive mediation effectively lowers online risk, but more restricted children tend to have lower digital skills, leaving them less equipped to deal with problematic situations.

Apart from parental mediation, there is 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?

To fully embrace the vast advantages of the internet, we must prioritise safety. While it's essential for parents to acknowledge the potential risks online, it is equally important not to label the entire internet as a difficult environment. Instead, let us encourage children to navigate the online world responsibly and utilise the various tools available to enhance their online safety. By doing so, we are not exerting control but demonstrating our genuine concern and affection.

When children are introduced to these safety measures from an early age, they will understand that utilising tools like parental controls is not a form of oppression but rather an act of love and protection.

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

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

Absolutely, especially for children aged 10 and older. It's important to have open discussions about the websites they wish to visit and the amount of time they want to spend online. By involving kids in decision-making, they are more likely to understand and accept the rules you've established, reducing the chances of them resenting the restrictions and rebelling 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. Small acts of rebellion may be a sign of our children's cleverness and ability to think critically.

Another common but false notion is that parents often feel that they must always make their children happy. Children do not need to be pleased with our rules, but they do need to think 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?

Parental control apps are not a means to avoid difficult conversations; they can facilitate meaningful discussions. For instance, these tools can alert parents if their child attempts to access a restricted website. Rather than punishing or imposing stricter rules, this serves as an opportunity to delve deeper into certain topics. It's important to note that relying solely on parental control apps does not guarantee complete protection from inappropriate content. Children may still encounter it through their peers or public devices. However, by using these apps in conjunction with open dialogues, we can limit their exposure and mitigate any potential distress caused by stumbling upon disturbing or inappropriate online material.

“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 experience and tell us why they enjoy being online. This way, children become active participants, confident they can rely on their parents when needed. Parents should enable stability – not only through rules and restrictions but also through empathy and long-term open communication.”

Can't parents 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 ensuring that others who do not have our trust do not hurt you.” Parental control applications do not take away children's privacy; they 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”? 

Every family is different, and having different rules for internet use is fine. 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. Suppose we are too restrictive and make it impossible for them to access information. In that case, 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 can better explain our standpoint to our kids. We may have to accept that they may not be fully happy about our decisions, but surprisingly, this is often not the case. 

“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 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 rob 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.

To learn more about how to set up Parental Controls, click here.

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