One of the most common questions I get in my work as a speaker and consultant on digital health and well-being is about digital monitoring. Should we monitor? Which platforms or tools are best? What if we choose not to monitor our teens’ screens? The question of monitoring is deeply personal. Every child is different and may need different levels of support and intervention with their screens. I encourage families to get to know parental controls, filters, and digital supports that exist. Spend time vetting them and seeing if and how they can work to support your family. But what is more important to me than monitoring is that we’re not using blocks and controls to replace our parenting.
One of my favorite sayings that I once saw hanging on a sign in a public library is, “There’s No App To Replace Your Lap”. This reminds me that our humanness is what our kids and teens need most of all and we cannot outsource our parenting. We still need to be focused on the relationship, the digital citizenship education of the child and be engaged in conversations about experiences, mistakes, and expectations online. However, digital monitoring can support our parenting efforts and be a tool for healthy use based on each family’s needs and values.
The most common ways to get to know options that exist for families include connecting with your device and Internet service provider to purchase monitoring support through them or shopping for private software companies that have developed parental controls. Additionally engaging with the game, social media, and other platforms for parental educational services can be a great resource. There are tools that range from mirroring or monitoring every keystroke to tech turn-off times, screen time management, and other filters and blocks. Additionally, using your community to ask for advice, see what has worked for them, or trial and error are great steps as needed.
In addition to parental controls, here are some low risk prompts to emotionally monitor — especially during intense social and cultural times like these:
- Who did you play online with today? How far did you make it in your game?
- Did you see any news or stories you’re still thinking about today? Is there anything you want to talk about?
- How are your (specific) friends doing? Is anyone celebrating anything fun? Any challenges they’re sharing online?
- Tell me about the websites, apps, or tools you like to use for school. Is there anything frustrating about tech at school?
- Show me that TikTok dance you’re working on. Tell me the name of the YouTuber you love. Did you stream anything new online lately?
For some families, digital monitoring feels necessary to prevent truly dangerous (often repeated) behaviors. For other families, digital monitoring is a choice because our child’s use is generally typical. Remember, there is more to it than “set & forget” whatever decision we make around monitoring. We’ve got to do the parenting work of communicating, checking in, and setting expectations and boundaries.