Children are spending more time online. A May 2020 study found that American teens spend an average of seven hours a day using screens. Even before the pandemic, American teens were indicating in surveys that they were “almost constantly online.”
As with any venue, parents may be concerned about what threats lurk on the Internet – from cyberbullying to teen-to-teen sexting – and the various technological tools to monitor their children’s online activities. tempted to use.
As a researcher who specializes in how teens function in online environments, I know that spying on your kids’ keystrokes and web browsers is the sole or even parent’s responsibility. Not best practice and can cause problems of its own. Here are five tips on how parents can encourage their children to adopt safe online behavior other than spyware or computer surveillance.
1. Don’t just monitor your kids online, talk to them
Technological measures, such as those that allow parents to monitor every keystroke, can provide an additional way for parents to monitor what their children are doing. However, parental controls should not replace ongoing conversations with children about their digital media use and what it means to be safe online.
Many parents value open dialogue with their children about their Internet use. This can be beneficial in keeping them safe. Research on related traditional risk behaviors, such as adolescent substance use, has found that children who have open conversations with their parents are less likely to engage in these risky behaviors. Open communication about online experiences can also allow children to stay safe online.
2. Search for conversation starters
More and more television series and films have story lines about the use of digital media that serve as natural conversation starters. For example, in episode 5 of the first season of Netflix’s “Sex Education,” sexting is a central theme as sexually explicit images of a girl are sent to her classmates. The main characters of the show try to stop this revenge porn. The film “Love, Simon” portrays the struggle of a gay teenage boy who seeks online support from another close gay student at his school through an online confession site and falls out only through that online platform.
Alternatively, you can ask your kids to teach you how to use some of their favorite apps. This would be an excellent opportunity to discover together all the features as well as the privacy settings that these applications offer.
3. Reassure your kids that they can turn to you if they get into trouble
As part of the ongoing conversation about media use, parents should make sure their children feel they can reach out for help when they have unpleasant online experiences. Research has found that some children are afraid to talk to their parents when faced with problems such as cyberbullying. They worry that parents may overreact or take away their devices.
Making sure your child knows they can reach out for help and that you will do your best to understand their needs can make them less vulnerable to risks such as online extortion. If your child reveals a particular online problem, a good way to respond is to simply ask your child how the problem makes them feel.
4. Explain why you are monitoring their online activities
Parents who decide to monitor their children’s Internet use should always state that they are doing so. Most parents already do this, as one study found that most parents believe that not telling their kids they’re being supervised destroys their child’s sense of privacy and security. will be infringed.
Furthermore, when children learn that their Internet use has been monitored without their knowledge, it can lead to a breach of trust. One study found that intrusive parenting, such as spying on your children without their knowledge, can lead to more negative interactions between parents and children when the children are aware, and some children may be more likely to engage with their parents. less likely to communicate with As a result, parents will be less aware of their children’s lives. Therefore, it is important for parents to clarify why they are monitoring their children’s online behavior.
5. Tailor your child to maturity and unique situation
While young children can benefit from close monitoring of their Internet use, research has found that many parents gradually give their children more autonomy and become less restrictive in their monitoring as children get older. . As a natural part of growing up, teens value personal autonomy, especially when it comes to their media use.
Just as parents may not always see their teenage children in the offline world, they may find it useful to provide their children with gradually increased autonomy in the online world as they grow up. It can encourage children to develop problem-solving skills and teach them to navigate online risks. What this looks like will be different for each child and depends on their age. Everyone is susceptible to media influences and online risks in different ways. This is why it is important to customize the autonomy that you provide to your child based on their personality, their maturity and their prior online experiences.
Online monitoring can also have some unintended side effects. For example, parents of LGBTQ teens should be aware that sexual and gender minority youth often rely on the Internet to find information, identify themselves, and connect with the wider LGBTQ community. Restricted forms of surveillance can take away youth agency and severely limit their opportunities to grow in identity.
Whether or not parents decide to monitor their children’s Internet use, there is still much to be learned about effective parental mediation in an increasingly complex digital world. While parental supervision is different for each child, it should primarily start with good communication and a balance between supervision and autonomy.
[Like what you’ve read? Want more? Sign up for The Conversation’s daily newsletter.]