This piece originally featured in issue 3 of Digital Parenting magazine.
By Jemima Gibbons, Author of Monkeys with Typewriters: Myths and Realities of Social Media at Work.
Today’s technology allows you to track everything your kids are doing online. Thanks to key logging, web trackers and even simple history settings, parents have the power to snoop on their child’s entire digital life. And with staggering figures showcasing children’s online use, it’s no surprise that some parents – as many as 51%* in Britain – admit to secretly accessing their child’s Facebook account or spying on their online activity.
93% of kids age 8-11 are online for around 13.5 hours a week, while 99% of kids between 12 and 15 say they’re online for up to 20.5 hours a week **. But what are they doing and seeing online? New social networks and chat options open the door to inappropriate contact, and the sheer number of online destinations attracting our children’s attention can be baffling to say the least.
Just a few of years ago, Facebook, YouTube and the occasional upstart like Chatroulette were all parents had to contend with. Now there is Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, Twitch, Fruit Ninja, Ask.fm and a host of other chat-enabled apps or websites. Couple this with the recent news from the NSPCC that almost two million British children under 16 have been targeted by strangers on the internet, and it’s clear why allowing children to use the web unsupervised is a daunting prospect for parents.
So, what’s the right answer when it comes to keeping kids safe? The debate is often split down the middle – either full surveillance-style monitoring is the only way to ensure peace of mind, or any monitoring is considered tantamount to spying. But there is a more reasonable solution. Katie Lee, founder of social media agency Miramus, advocates boundaries for younger children – such as agreeing that they won’t delete their browsing history and that certain sites are off limits until they turn 16. However, as she also points out:
As they grow older, it’s really not OK to snoop on them. You wouldn’t hide in a bush and watch them or peek through a window at a party!
Send the message that you trust them
Moderate child safety advocates have traditionally espoused a ‘trust but verify’ approach. Unless you know they’re specifically at risk, it’s better to start from a position of trust, teaching them about the dangers and concerns of using the web and relying on them to make the right decisions. Communication, Lee says, is key:
Once you know what interests your child and how they use the web, you can make sure they understand how to be streetwise online – just as you teach them to be streetwise in the real world.
By showing them real-life examples of inappropriate contact or conduct, you can bring the message home more effectively than by playing spy, says Joanna Mallon, founder of Kidsblog:
If you look too closely over your child’s shoulder, it gives them the impression you don’t trust them, which could make them more likely to go behind your back and not tell you what they’re doing online. Send the message that you trust them.
While a suite of parental controls is always a good idea – products such as Net Nanny or Norton Family filter inappropriate content – less monitoring and more dialogue is the answer to instilling the tools they need to stay safe themselves.
This article was originally written in partnership with Parent Zone
* Monkeys with Typewriters: Myths and Realities of Social Media at Work
**Children and Parents: Media Use and Attitudes Report 2018