How to Use Monitoring as a Tool to Start Conversations with Your Kids
In today’s digital age, most of the relationship-defining arguments you have with your kids will be over electronics and the Internet. While parenting has always come with the responsibility to talk to our children about values and appropriate behaviors, starting a conversation about how to apply those to a child’s social media accounts can be intimidating.
That’s why early guidelines and discussions about safety are key to families that successfully educate their children on how to use their smartphones. If you’re unsure how to start the conversation, monitoring is one tool that can help bridge the divide between you and your child.
Before You Start Monitoring
Ideally, you would talk to your kids about online activities before they even start using phones and computers – but of course that doesn’t always happen. However, no matter what your concern or the age of your kids, start with a conversation. Explain your concerns, your goals for safety, and what monitoring features you are going to start using.
This conversation can go many different ways: Yes, it may end up as an argument or you may get the silent treatment, especially with older kids. The important part is that you are establishing yourself as an authority when it comes to their online choices and opening up a dialogue. One of the worst things you can do is compromise the trust your kids unconsciously place in you, so always talk about monitoring before you start monitoring.
A note on these tricky discussions: They don’t need to happen only once. As the online world changes and your kids grow older, you need to have this discussion over and over again before you choose well-fitting monitoring practices.
Ask Questions About Use
Kids can be incredibly rebellious and unaware of potential dangers, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore their perspective. Ask your kids how they feel about monitoring and why it may be necessary to keep an eye on their online activity. By allowing your child the opportunity to voice their opinion, you are creating an open line of communication where you both can learn from each other.
As they answer your questions, this also gives you some much needed facts about how your kids use phones and computers! Finding out whether they are more likely to use Instagram or Snapchat will give you a direction to take online monitoring and a better understanding of how they think about the Internet. Also, you may want to ask just what safety practices their schools are teaching them when it comes to browsing online.
Pinpoint Problem Areas
Now that you’ve discussed monitoring and asked a few questions, it’s time to talk about problem areas that you want to cover with monitoring. This gives both you and your kids concrete goals to work with. Are you most worried about harassment from strangers? Are you concerned with porn, sexts, or other sexual content? Do you want to prevent stupid stunts, online bullying, or trash talking in comments or texts?
Defining these problem areas shows you what type of activities you should be monitoring and is much more useful than saying, “Well, I’ll just watch what you do on Facebook and what websites you visit.” Apps and sites change, but your concerns are unlikely to shift. Explain to your child exactly why you want to monitor them – giving them less reason to think of you as a totalitarian.
Supervision vs. Privacy
For younger kids, this step may not be necessary, but you will need to include this conversation eventually as phone and Internet use changes with age. Where does your supervision end, and their privacy begin? How is this connected with their independence and social skills? It’s tempting to back away from this gray area, but this is the discussion that’s probably the most important to your kids. They want to know that their privacy will still be protected, and you want them to know that if they start doing acting inappropriately online, you’ll know about it.
This discussion needs to be held periodically, because priorities do shift over time. Your 17-year old son is going to have a very different idea of privacy than he did when he was 12, and your concerns will have probably changed as well. How do you give your kids the increased privacy that they need while still keeping them from online catastrophe? The first step is to talk about it – lay the groundwork for what areas are off limits for parents, and what you still need to be monitoring.
It’s here that tools like TeenSafe are particularly useful, because they allow you to specify what types of communication you monitor or choose less intrusive options–like monitoring only texts and phone location if necessary.
Create Schedules, Consequences, and Limits
Once you have defined problem areas and chosen monitoring tools, you are ready to create a set of guidelines. When are your kids allowed to use their devices, and when is the required turn off time? What are the consequences for, say, visiting a forbidden site or using foul language online? Set this down, preferably in writing, so your kids know exactly what to expect.
Leave Dialogue Open
In reality, you only have a few years of “parental controls” for your tweens and teens before they are on their own. Eventually, they can look up whatever they want or talk to whoever they want online. That’s distressing, but you have to face the fact that your safety measures are all temporary.
This is why keeping the dialogue open is so important. Your goal is to put your kids in a position where you can trust them. You want to give them the tools to protect themselves, make smart decisions, and ask for help when they need it.
Keep every discussion of online monitoring polite and open to future adjustments. Yes, sometimes you’ll have to resort to “because I’m a parent and I say so,” but this works best as a last resort. Remember, your child’s relationship with electronic communication is constantly changing – as are the apps and devices that they are using. An open channel of communication allows you to keep tabs on important changes and let’s your kids know that they can come to you for advice or whenever there’s a problem.