This blog post was originally published in October of 2019 and the topic has come up so much recently in my conversations with parents, I thought now would be a good time to re-publish it.
When it comes to internet safety, I often hear the discussion framed as "to monitor or not to monitor" and I want to encourage you to think about your child's safety online in much broader ways. Monitoring is just one of many strategies that you can use to keep your child/teen safe. To use an analogy about bikes, monitoring your child's internet usage is like driving behind your child in the car when they go on a long bike ride with their friends. It may be a good idea the first time they are going out, but there are other, more important things you do to ensure their safety before you ever put them on the bike. You make sure they know how to ride a bike, you insist on them wearing a helmet, you teach them how to safely cross a street and what areas are okay to explore.
The following are some suggestions I like to recommend that parents consider well before their child is ready to go online:
1- Teach responsibility, decision-making, and judgment
Look for opportunities for your child to learn to make good decisions. For example, put a thermometer where your child can read it and help them experiment and decide what temperature they need a coat to feel comfortable. Are there other things they need to consider other than temperature... wind, rain, time of day, activity they are going outside to do, etc.?
2- Keep the computer in a public area
This enables you to have conversations with your child about their online activities and also lets them know from a very early age that there isn't an expectation of privacy with online activity. It is also a great opportunity to discuss how what they do online is NEVER private.
3- Engage in evaluation. Does anything (playing certain video games, social media use, slumber parties) cause you to stop being a kind and thoughtful member of our family?
When you start to introduce this language when your child is very young, you have the model for when they are older. For example, my child would be very cranky after slumber parties. We worked together on strategies for them to enjoy their friends AND be a kind family member. The result was that they would have their friends over for "half slumber parties" where the friend would go home at 10 p.m. Fast forward to them as a teen getting involved in social media drama that kept them from their homework. We already had this model for discussing when things that you enjoy doing (first slumber parties, now social media) disrupt your other roles and responsibilities.
4- Talk to your child about how they want others to think of them, or their personal brand.
I read a great article about a conversation Steven Aldrich, GoDaddy’s chief product officer, had with his son. He used this example when encouraging his son to think about how a future employer or college professor would respond to things he posts online now: “Think about what you might have chosen if you’d gotten a tattoo when you were 3? What if you got a Barney tattoo, and now you’re in middle school? Would you want to be walking around with a Barney tattoo?”
5- Increase their level of independence as they get older and demonstrate responsibility in other areas.
My recommendation is to give your teen increasing responsibility with social media and in other areas of their life as they get older. At some point most of our children and teens will live away from us and we want them to have enough freedom before that happens to test limits and make mistakes while we are still around to help them problem-solve.
Do you want to see how you compare with other parents in your views on social media monitoring? Check out this research from Pew. Want more info on ways to keep your child safe? The American Academy of Pediatrics has these recommendations and HealthyChildren.org also has great resources.