Digital Parenting: The Next Frontier

kid90% of children will have some type of online presence by the time they are 2 years old. -Huff Post.

For many parents this doesn’t come as a surprise, these kids are, after all, digital natives who have consumed online content from the moment they could hold a smartphone. While raising your kids in the digital age can be exciting and fun, it also brings with it challenges that parents of previous generations never had to consider.

In today's digital-first world, responsible parenting goes far beyond simply making sure your kids do well at school and behave at home. Today, ensuring your kid’s online safety is just as important. The digital frontier of online parenting poses questions like:
  • How do I make sure what my kids see online is safe?
  • How much screen time is too much?
  • Should I be talking to my kids about online safety? If so, how?
  • What content is suitable for my kids to see?

A growing number of parents are turning to parental control apps to answer these questions and help keep their kids safe online. While parental control apps come in all shapes and sizes, many of the most popular features include web content filtering, screen-time management, app control, and app blocking functionality.

Clearly these features are great for parents, but too often parents who use them leave the actual “parenting” to the apps. A recent study by the University of Central Florida found that online monitoring apps are really just causing kids to hate their parents, especially for parents with teens.

Now if your first thought is “What, Why? I just want my kids to be safe”, you’re not alone. Parental control apps are excellent tools to help with your child’s online safety, but they are just that, tools. The report indicated that many kids don't feel trusted and that they’re being micromanaged when their parents use parental control apps. This negative perception of the technology creates tension between kids and their parents, which prevents open communication about safe online behavior.

Instead, according to the report, parental control apps should be combined with a strong education about responsible and safe online behavior. This means using a parental control app to monitor online activity and block inappropriate content, while combining usage with proactive conversations with your kids about about what content is suitable, and why. This gives your kids the opportunity to take an active role in the conversation, understand how to be safe online, and feel comfortable talking to you about their online experiences and, in many cases, robust online presence.

When selecting a parental control app, it is important to select one that helps you facilitate this important conversation rather than shutting it down before it begins. Many apps on the market today are aimed toward the infamous helicopter parent in that they facilitate parents to spy on their kids online behavior without their knowledge. However, as mentioned in the report, this type of digital parenting is counterproductive and will only cause tension. A parental control app should provide parents with the tools to help ensure the online safety of their kids, while providing a platform to discuss safe online behavior. This dialogue will help increase the understanding and shared common ground between kids and parents, equipping both to explore the digital frontier together.

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