Q: We have two daughters (9 and 11) who each have smart phones, tablets and laptops. We hired a tech guy to set up their devices with as many blocks as possible to protect them from questionable content. He told us that there’s only so much he can do, that they can still get access to things we may not want them to see. Surely there must be a way to protect children on the Internet. Do you know of anything?
A: The only foolproof way to protect children from inappropriate Internet content is to not allow them access to the Internet at all. You can have blocks on your computer but if your girls have access to social media, they can still get links to content you may not want them to see. You have two options:
- Educate your girls on what they should and shouldn’t be doing on their devices. Social media is a no-no. It’s going to be a challenge keeping them off Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, but sometimes you just have to put your foot down for their sakes.
- Replace their smart phones with old-fashioned flip phones or no phones at all. Flip phones can still get access to links, but they’re far more limited. Get rid of the tablets and only allow computer time when you’re there to supervise. Just have the screens facing into the room you’re in so you can see what they’re working on.
The first option requires a lot of trust in your girls. Even if they’re really easy kids, it’s still tempting to follow what others are doing and get into social media. That’s why I think the second option is the best one. Just remove the temptations as I believe your girls are too young for all that easy Internet access anyway. Tell them you made a mistake by allowing them to have all this easy access and are now going to make some changes. To prove this isn’t a punishment, give them something else they’d see as a real treat to replace what you’re taking away, as that’s only fair.
Once they are teenagers they’ll have plenty of online time but you want to put that off for as long as possible. I’d say 14 is a good age to start allowing social media involvement.
Parenting is more of a challenge than ever thanks to computers and technology. I believe it can be a very healthy part of a wellbalanced life, but just not too early. Kids are in such a rush to grow up and it’s our job as their parents to slow them down a bit.
Lisa Bunnage, Parenting Coach & Mom (firstname.lastname@example.org)