Supervise, Don’t Scrutinize
If you really want to watch every website your children visit, read their email and instant messages, and see every photo they share, you certainly can. But what, precisely, does that teach them? Shouldn’t they know that a stranger contacting them is bad on their own, without your intervening?
Focus instead on a policy of supervision. Use website controls and parental control apps to set limits, and have a long talk where you explain in terms they can understand why certain websites and apps are off-limits. In short, invest them with trust and the ability to grow that trust.
Have Open-Minded Rules
Parental control apps can make enforcing certain rules easy; no YouTube during homework or school, for example. But rules without justifications can be infuriating for adults, let alone children. So when you lay down a rule, include the reasons why with it. Make it clear that you trust them, but there are risks you want to keep them away from for now.
Set standards and consequences for breaking the rules, and also standards for loosening the rules. For example, if they want their own Facebook account, you might ask them to demonstrate what they do if a stranger sends them a message that scares them, or that they’re able to spot propaganda and sort it from factual reporting.
Similarly, remember that the challenges kids face can be very different. It would be wonderful if girls and boys were treated the same on the internet, but unfortunately, they’re not, and both boys and girls should know what to do when somebody is being attacked just for who they are.
Make it clear the ultimate decision lies with you, and that any decision you make is conditional on following the rules. However, the rules should grow and change along with your kids.
Ask What They’re Doing
You should always leave the door open for them to talk to you about things that have happened to them and questions that they have. Even things that aren’t outright “wrong” by your family’s standards can be confusing or disturbing, and kids need to have a place to talk those issues out.
This should also track the arc of school and their lives, and you may need to learn about, and process, that together. For example, if your children start learning about World War II in school, and they’re naturally curious, they may find some of the more troubling aspects of that war by themselves. It’s OK to tell your kids that the questions they have are hard to answer and may not even have any answers.
Every family will approach the questions and concerns the internet raises in a different way. It’s less about universal rules and more about what your family can handle and what’s most important to them. Open communication, honest interaction, and effective rules will be the best way for your kids to get the most out of the internet, while staying safe. Screen Time can help keep the rules in place. To learn more, try it for free!