As the parent of two girls approaching their teens, I am constantly thinking about how to best help them navigate the black hole that is the internet. How do I keep them from seeing disturbing images and videos online? Am I supposed to censor with filters? And if so, how long do I leave them, and will they even be effective?
After some research and soul searching, I came to the following conclusions:
It’s more about communication than control
Kids (and teens especially) love to push back against rules. This is natural and expected. Yet we know we’re doing our job as parents when despite our rules, they open up and tell us what’s going on in their lives and hearts.
What I really want is for them to talk to me. I don’t want to block all the bad stuff online and never talk about it because they are definitely going to see it at some point or find a way around the filters.
When they’re talking to me and I’m listening, they trust me more.
Bottom line: Do not replace parenting with safe search filters. Communicate with your kids about what they see online.
Filters are notoriously full of holes, blocking things that are perfectly fine while allowing content through that is awful. For young kids especially, I definitely recommend installing filters to sift out the really bad stuff but don’t be fooled into thinking that it’s enough. Again, especially for older kids, communication is the number one most important defense we have against the dangers of the internet.
Bottom Line: Filters are inconsistent. Do not mistake filters for parental supervision!
3. Monitoring software bridges the gap between filters and communication
If you install monitoring and reporting software (like Ever Accountable) on your children’s devices, be transparent with them about it. If you do, it provides an excellent opportunity to talk to them about safe searches and online dangers. This kind of software sends you reports of everything they’ve been searching for online, even in apps and different web browsers.
Here’s an example of how monitoring software helps with communication. My oldest daughter was researching recipes for posole, a spicy hominy and pork soup she wanted to make for dinner. One of her search terms, “spicy Mexican flavors” landed her on a porn site (for perhaps obvious reasons). Filters did not work in this case, but the monitoring software showed me the visit to the XXX site and I went to talk to her about it.
Of course, I was disturbed about what she saw on the website, but I used the opportunity to have a chat about deeper issues. We talked about pornography and how it intrinsically demeans women. That led us into a very lighthearted conversation about what kind of boyfriend she wants someday, and how she can expect her body and heart to be treated by someone. It easily led me to remind her to never feel pressured into sending pictures to someone online, even her boyfriend. Such a great conversation came out of what could have been a safe search problem.
Bottom Line: Monitoring software is more effective in safe searches than filters
Which leads me to my final point…
4. I cannot prevent my kids from seeing bad things online
It’s going to happen. No matter how much filtering I do, they’re going to see it. In our modern tech world, they have every opportunity to find devices without filters and look at whatever they want. Let’s be honest, they’ll probably go looking anyway, no matter what I tell them because they’re curious and they’re kids.
I cannot fully control safe searches online. The ONLY thing I can control is to teach them about right and wrong; about the reasons why consuming porn is dangerous, hurtful, and destructive; about the power of choice and the control they have over their own lives and bodies.
Bottom Line: Talk to your kids about the reasons NOT to consume porn, because no matter what you do, they’re going to see it at some point.