One topic that comes up again and again from parents is how to monitor and install parental controls, while still allowing for some autonomy in your child's use of technology. As nerve-wracking as it may be, there is no sure fire way to monitor and shield your child from everything negative online. There are a few things you can do, however, to make your child's technological experiences as safe as possible.
First up, create some ground rules. Technology is a privilege, not a right, and should be treated as such. These rules could include setting daily time limits, only using phones after homework is done, not taking devices into bathrooms or bedrooms, no phones at the dinner table, require permission before downloading any apps - whatever works best for your family dynamic. Set these rules as a family. There are some really good templates of contracts that all family members can sign at Common Sense Media or the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Next, teach your children about online dangers and how to keep their online reputation secure. It's far better for them to be a little scared than unaware of what lies out there. This can be an uncomfortable conversation, but it's one that needs to happen regularly. Staying on top of teaching and modeling appropriate online behavior is paramount in ensuring your child's safety. Remember to think twice before posting - whatever goes online, stays online forever. Teach your child to not make a permanent decision based off a temporary emotion.
Get to know your children's online friends and the technology they are using. The more you know about the apps, games, and sites they like to visit, the more in control you'll feel, and the better you will be able to help them if/when something scary does come up. Know who they're conversing with, why, how, and for what purpose.
Teach good decision making. That's a common general goal among parents, and it applies especially to children's technology use. They are flooded with tons of images, sites, advertisements, posts, media every day all day. If they know how to discern which sites are legitimate and which sites could be harmful, they'll be in good shape when something comes up that you don't want them to see. That being said, you can still keep a watchful eye and double check those privacy settings often.
Finally, find a healthy balance with technology use. Know the signs of too much technology use: is your child throwing a tantrum every time a device is taken away? Does their screen time interfere with social life, homework, family time, etc.? Know the difference between quality of time online and quantity. It is far better to have 30 minutes of learning how to code than 30 minutes of scrolling through Instagram or watching Tik Tok videos.
Online monitoring of your children works best when it's a collaborative effort. There is a difference between healthy monitoring of their technology use and straight up spying on their actions. They will trust you and come to you more freely if they know the rules and you abide by the same guidelines you set for them. If you still feel like you need a little more control, Common Sense Media has a list of parental controls that you can install to help give you a little more security. Remember, the internet is a wonderful tool that we have available to us, and it can be used for excellent purposes - just as long as you know how to use it properly.
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