If parental controls aren’t about controlling your child - what ARE they about?
Slip-ups around screen-time - whether allowing too much of it or neglecting to monitor it at all - are now the number-one source of parental guilt, at least according to a widely reported survey published this week.
But our fear of loss of control isn’t confined to the way our kids use, and occasionally abuse, their devices. Psychologists hear the phrase “I can’t control my child!” constantly from mums and dads struggling to enforce discipline and “make” kids behave, both online and off.
But what assumptions underlie our quest for control? Is parenting really best approached as a power struggle - a battle royale where the winner, as in game of Fortnight, is the last man standing?
Psychologist and educational consultant Liz Matheis points to the flaws in this parenting model.
“From birth to age 18 is a time of guiding development where you are supporting and growing your child, not a tug of war of wills,” she says. “When it becomes one, I ask parents to think about whose needs that are being frustrated – are they yours or your child’s?
Is parenting really best approached as a power struggle - a battle royale where the winner, as in game of Fortnight, is the last man standing?
“Parenting is about setting expectations and standards for your child and then holding him to them,” she adds. “It’s also about the emotional space you provide in your home and your tolerance for anger, sadness, fear and disappointments. It’s also about raising those standards over time as your child grows.
“Your relationship with your child is about a true emotional connection. It is not about who is in control, what you were able to make your child do …”
How parental controls fit in
So how do parental controls fit into such an approach? Because without a doubt, cyber safety tools like Family Zone are all about empowering mums and dads to set limits around their children’s online activity. In a word, they are all about control … aren’t they?
Here at Family Zone, we see online safety as a basic parental responsibility - and a basic right for children. To borrow Dr. Matheis’ words, our approach “is not about control, but rather setting expectations and standards, listening, understanding how your child is different than you, and making sure that you are not bringing your past into the present.”
Parental controls can be used in a “controlling” way - to demand digital obedience, and prioritise parents’ fears over children’s safety and growth.
Online safety is a basic responsibility for parents - and a basic right for children.
But the approach we advocate puts communication and connection at the centre of cyber safety. That’s why our tools are customisable and flexible. It’s why our cyber experts encourage open conversation around your children’s digital journey - and recommend that you sit by their side (literally and figuratively) to learn what and how and with whom they are interacting online.
It’s why keeping digital parents up to date with the latest news and trends in tech is so important to us, with blogs and posts like this one.
Setting sensible, age-appropriate boundaries around their online behaviour is no more “controlling” than establishing norms for bedtime, study habits, healthy eating, physical exercise or offline social behaviour.
What Dr. Matheis and other parenting experts call “true emotional connection” is not about letting kids decide what’s best for them. On the contrary, it is a matter of “listening for your child’s needs and meeting them in the moment.”
Family Zone’s holistic approach has been developed especially to help parents rise to that challenge, while safeguarding their children’s safety, security and wellbeing - online and off.
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It's not just how much screen-time we use. It's the way we use it.