The Best Parental Control Tool? Parents

So I’ve written a bit about parental control resources meant to keep kids safe online.  All of these available restrictions and software add-ons are useful tools.  But none of them are useful without the guidance of parents.

And there’s always been something about the term “parental control” that bothered me.  Do we really want to control our kids?  Maybe parental guidance is a better term.  If all features are locked down, then kids don’t have an opportunity to learn to make good choices on their own. Obviously this is dependent on age; for example I would suggest stricter controls for a 6 year old as compared to a 16 year old.

Here are a few things parents can do to provide guidance along with parental control tools on kid’s iDevices, cell phone and other gadgets.

Review Expectations

Before handing over an iPod, Wii remote, or cell phone, sit down with your child and discuss your expectations.   You might talk about time limits, whether they can bring a device to school, or applications/websites they can or cannot use.  For example, my daughter may not have her iPod touch in her bedroom overnight on weekdays (too distracting in the morning when getting ready for school).  She can retrieve the device from the bookcase in our living room once she’s dressed in the morning. This was put in place after a few hectic mornings!

While I could restrict her use of the YouTube app on her iPod touch completely (and know that many parents do), instead I explained that she could use YouTube but that I didn’t want her viewing anything inappropriate in nature.  I came to this decision after reviewing her YouTube history and seeing that it was all fairly innocent:

YouTube history on an iPod Touch

Appropriate YouTube viewing!

A word to the wise, it is possible for a kid to come across something you deem “inappropriate” by complete accident, especially in YouTube.  So again, the guidance you provide will help (such as “when in doubt, don’t click”).  And depending on their age, you could just decide to restrict it altogether.  Oh, to check YouTube history, open the YouTube app and click More and then History.  You’ll see the last several videos viewed.  (Another word to the wise, the savvy kids will figure out that they can clear the history. )

Spend some time online together

A great way to provide guidance is to sit down together and have your son or daughter show you what they are doing online.  They may have downloaded some apps on their iPod (if you allow it) or have come across a cool online game.  You can see first hand what these games are like and offer some advice.

For example a few of the games my daughter plays have the option of internal chat with other players.  This was a great opportunity for me to remind her that not everyone on the Internet is who they say they are and that she should not share any personal information.

Also you can suggest some apps and games that you can enjoy together.  Lately my daughter and I have been playing the Free “Words with Friends” game.  Great vocabulary booster!

Stay Informed

With technology changing every day it can be hard for those of us (old-timers) outside the “digital native” group to keep up.  Oftentimes we go to our own kids to learn about something on the computer! (Reminds me of the time I had to rewrite my mom’s cell phone manual so that she could understand it.  For a year she kept my little handout in her purse so she could reference it when sending a text message!)  Check out some of the topics I have on my site for additional information on safe searching, iPod restrictions, Facebook privacy settings and more.  Also here are a few of my favorite go-to destinations for staying on top of the ever-shifting sands of media and technology.

The combination of parental guidance along with parental “control” tools and software are a good step towards keeping kids safe online, on their phones and anywhere/everywhere they are connected to the internet.   Let me know in the comments how you handle all this in your household!