Let’s get straight to the point: the Parental Control concept is the biggest parenting mistake in modern history. Sounds too aggressive? It’s not, and here’s why.
Good parenting is about teaching our kids to think on their own — letting them make the right decisions while guiding them in the process, teaching them to practice good habits, and leading by example. It’s about communicating what’s right and wrong to our children, and exerting some control only when necessary. Apply too much control and you defeat the purpose of teaching them how to survive and thrive on their own.
Parental Control solutions are promising an easy fix. They are telling us that It’s all about us, the parents, controlling our kids, that you shouldn’t ask your kids for their opinion. After all, we bought them the phone or the tablet. All you need to do is install a “little app” or buy a new router, press one button, and Voila! Their internet will be turned off, and life is back to normal!
The reality is a far cry from this promise. Those kids you’re being “advised” not to include in the conversation, know far more about technology than you do. They will fight back and they will find a way out of any virtual prison you put them into — they will simply Google it. So parents resort to even harsher methods, more control, more restriction, less communication, exacerbating the battle, as if anything was ever taught by force. By resorting to parental control solutions, you’re not teaching them how to manage their own time and how to deal with distractions, which is the actual issue.
Remember that when you turn off their access to the Internet and their devices, you are simply cutting off the supply but doing nothing to temper the demand. This creates a craving sensation that consumes their attention and results in a binging behavior when they regain access. To make things worse, you’re most likely leading by a bad example when you spend as much time, if not more than your kids, on your devices.
But why are we so eager to adopt a solution that goes against good parenting practices? Why do we use techniques that we would never use otherwise with our children? Because something did change.
Throughout human evolution, adults were responsible for teaching their kids, guiding them, pointing out the risks, and picking them up when they stumble. Parenting has essentially remained the same for tens of thousands of years.
Until now. It may be hard to believe, but for the first time in modern history, kids know more about the future than their parents do. This new generation of kids is vastly more informed, better equipped, and more eager to adopt new technologies than their predecessors. Today’s kids have no problem keeping up with the constant stream of new technology innovations, new online destinations, and new forms of media. They are digital natives.
In this increasingly digital world, parents are feeling out of place. Some days, it seems like our kids come from another planet and we’re been left behind in the dinosaur age, waiting to become extinct. We make fun of them for not knowing what a rotary phone is or how cool turntables were, but deep inside we’re terrified that they’re so far advanced, we can never catch up. We desperately seek a way to slow down the process, to give us back some control over that they are doing online. That fear, that desperation, is why we’re grasping at the false promises of parental controls.
In the “on-demand economy,” we’ve gotten used to everything being easy. There’s an app for anything you desire; everything is a tap away. We don’t even need to go grocery shopping anymore; AmazonFresh delivers to your doorstep. Not to mention that in a few short years, we will not even need to drive anymore.
We’ve delegated everything to technology, so why not this part of parenting? Technology created the problem, why can’t technology also be the solution? It can, but not like this.
If parental control products are not the answer, what is? A good screen time solution for our kids (and ourselves) should follow these four principles:
- Needs to be collaborative, discussion-based. As with other challenges our kids face we want them to be on board with any solution we have for them. We should never force our ideas and systems upon them, rather have open conversations with them and take their opinions into account. Usage of electronic devices and the Internet should follow the same principle. Deciding that one hour is enough without even asking them is a mistake. Kids are ok with limits, but they do want to be part of the conversation. A good solution should allow kids to voice their opinions and allow parents to consider them before making a decision.
- Should limit only “addictive” use. Technology is not bad. The internet is not bad. Devices are not bad. Social media is not bad (and if you think it is, disallow it!). Watching videos online is not bad. However, spending hours and hours hooked on these things IS bad. The challenge is creating a balance between those hard-to-stop activities and useful online activities such as doing homework, researching, listening to music, and even playing educational games. A good solution should enable parents to easily create different schedules, one for hard-to-stop (addictive) activities like social media, videos, and games, and one for positive educational-based activities.
- Should teach our kids to manage their own time. Like any other aspect of parenting, our goal is not to do things for them. Rather, we want to help them learn how to do things on their own. They need to be in control instead of feeling victimized by our parental systems. They need to be the driver of the solution while you mentor from the passenger seat. After all, it is their issue that we are solving. A good solution should empower our kids to learn how to manage their own time, with your help.
- Lastly, you need to lead by example. It is not enough to talk the talk, we also need to walk the walk. We wouldn’t ask our kids to eat healthy while we gorge on junk food. It’s the same way with technology. Reading emails at the dinner table, texting while driving, watching too much Netflix, or spending too much time on Facebook is sending the wrong message. A good solution should allow you to lead by example by being on the same system.
Bottom line, devices and the Internet are here to stay. And let’s be honest, we all love them and need them. Only, we’ve allowed them to take a hold over our everyday lives and before we knew it, we became too reliant and borderline addicted.
We should not buy into the hype of apps or parental control technology that promises a quick fix. There isn’t a single button that we can press that will solve this challenge for us, or for our kids. Don’t buy into it, there are better ways.
This is where good old fashioned parenting comes in. Yes, It’s going to take some hard work but new tools, resources and thoughtful approaches like unGlue are quickly emerging. With them, you can start to lead collaborative teaching moments with your kids, understand the nuances between developing healthy screen habits and those that might be addictive in nature, and empower you to lead the way by example.
Originally published at medium.com