One of the tricky spaces where parents must find their balance is how and when to manage the activity of their children. Talking with your kids about adding parental controls to their devices is not exactly the most thrilling conversation. It’s often fraught with anxiety on behalf of the parent and frustration on behalf of the child. Seasoned mom, Tracey Bianchi, writes about how they approach this conversation in a home with three teenagers:

On one hand, we are the parents and they are the children. We are ultimately in control of their technology (as in we can give it and remove it from their lives and we likely paid for it). On the other, raising healthy children requires us to ultimately release what we monitor to eventually launch them into adulthood with the necessary skills to navigate the world.

Many parents struggle to make these digital parenting decisions and wonder if it is even worth the fight. The answer here is a resounding YES, but rest assured, there are ways to approach this conversation that do not leave you exhausted and your child exasperated.

Adding parental control apps to your family’s life can be done in a way that honors both your child’s growing autonomy and your responsibility as a parent to keep them safe online.

In our home: how we talk with our kids about parental controls

We recently added a parental control app to every phone in our home. Our family enjoys a lot of banter and humor, so our approach was lighthearted. Our children knew this particular app was already in use by most of their friends, so we spent several weeks joking about it. When a child was late arriving home or neglected a chore, we joked about how the app would fix their misstep (it would not fix it, but we joked that it would). When someone would sneeze, we joked that the app would fix their allergies — about any joke we could attach to the app, we attached. “Just wait until we get the app, then we will all be perfect!”

Our kids, of course, whined and laughed and whined again. They knew the addition of this app was coming. We joked for weeks and then one day — voila! — there it was. By the time they actually received the notification that the app had been installed, everyone was laughing.

Our teenagers weren’t caught off guard, and they had time to process having parental control apps added to their devices.

As parents, before we decide to do something, like add an app to our kids’ devices, we have had time to think about it. We’ve researched it, talked to other adults, and know that it’s going to happen. Whether it’s through humor, over a quiet dinner, or during a family meeting, it can be helpful for them not to feel so shocked when you do go to install it.

These discussions are not always this funny or easy, but I share this vignette from our family as an encouragement that it is indeed possible to diffuse some of the tension around adding parental control apps. You know your kids best, and you know how they’ll respond.

5 Tips to Talk with Your Kids about Adding Parental Controls:

1. Keep it positive

Parental controls are not a punishment; they are an assistant to support your child. Help your child understand that the addition of a particular app is not a negative consequence but rather an extension of your support system for them.

One easy way to do this is to separate the addition of parental control apps from any incident, if possible. Many times, parents discover risky behavior and rush to add parental control apps as a way to recover from what happened. When parents do this, the child is likely to view the addition of parental control apps as a punishment for their behavior, which will grow resentment.

Instead, be sure that no one is in “trouble” when you bring up the discussion with your children.

Have the conversation about parental control apps on a day when no one is grounded and when the mood in your home is upbeat and kind.

Engage with them in a positive tone that helps them understand everything the parental control will do for them rather than everything it will prevent them from doing. Focus on what it allows (including their safety and your peace of mind) rather than what it prohibits.

2. Supporting vs. snooping

Kids will often view the addition of these controls as an invasion of their privacy or spying by parents. Help them understand that you are not adding these controls to dig into their friendships and conversations. Tell them that you respect their right to privacy and that your reason for adding parental controls is to support them in the communities where they dwell online rather than monitor or listen to all the nuances of their lives.

This is why, at Canopy, we prefer to call this “digital parenting” instead of “parental control.” The focus is on the peace of mind that comes from knowing your kids are safe, not digging into every intimate detail of their electronic lives (as much as we may want to do just that).

3. Trust

Remind your child that you trust them! Or if they have lost your trust, remind them that you want to trust them and will again if you can agree on completing some action steps together.

Wise digital parenting is about helping a child understand that you believe in your child’s integrity and intellect, but you do not trust the world that is vying for their attention and working to create negative influences in their lives. Parental controls are put into place to help keep your child safe from others, not because you think they are unable to discern what is best for their own lives (even if this may be the case, on occasion).

4. An ongoing conversation

Remind your child that this is an open discussion, not a “done deal.” Help them feel safe speaking with you about your digital parenting strategy and invite them to revisit the use of controls with you at any time. Some controls need to stay in place and are likely not up for discussion while others should be open.

For example, if your child wants to view a particular video on YouTube or Netflix that you have determined is too mature for them, remain open to a discussion about why they want to view that film. Use this as an opportunity to discuss with them the reasons films are rated and the differences in content (language, sexuality, violence, etc.). It is possible they have a good reason for watching that film and you might choose to flex your digital parenting rule in particular instances if it makes sense to do so.

Even if you ultimately decide to keep the rule in place, if your child felt heard and that you listened to them, they will begin to understand that digital parenting is not a black and white conversation but rather that there are many gray areas you can discern together.

5. Teammates

Consistently remind your child that you are teammates in navigating the digital world. You are a citizen of that same world, and as a parent, you are learning and growing, just like your child. It is easy for parental controls to spiral into an Us vs. Them. Both of you are on one team, the team that is most eager for their flourishing and health in this life.

Your child may not agree with your digital parenting decisions, but if they truly believe your ultimate goal is not to control but rather their success, they will be more likely to receive your efforts to digitally parent their technology.

You are not alone.

Every family and every child is different in how they parent in our digital world. The important thing to remember is that coming up with a strategy to add control apps does not have to be an arduous, anxiety-producing situation for your family. There are graceful, balanced approaches that help you as a parent find your footing while celebrating the wisdom and integrity your child already possesses. These are rarely easy conversations, but they are essential.

Know that you are not alone in deliberating over how and when to approach this topic. And Canopy seeks to help you protect those you love most by providing an app that gives your family more freedom to explore the digital world safely.

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We built Canopy to empower families to enjoy a safer digital experience.

You’re not in this alone.

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