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Even though parents have increasingly been using parental controls in recent years, rates of children getting harmed by their use of digital devices don’t seem to be decreasing. Statistics from a study conducted in 2019 indicate that more than 23% of children and young people are harmed by smartphone use. And researchers can’t seem to be making up their minds about whether parental controls can actually be helpful in this matter or not. 

Another survey done by the University of Central Florida shows a higher number of kids whose parents use parental control apps on their digital devices, reporting harassment and unwanted exposure to explicit material online. This has led some to think that apps specifically created to keep children safe on their devices might not be delivering their promised results, which brings us to this question: How effective are parental control apps really? And are they actually as counterproductive as some studies make them out to be? Or are they taking the fall for other factors not taken into account? 

In this article, we will try to explore the main contributing factors to the damage done by the increasing dependency of children on digital devices and the ways in which parental control apps affect both children’s and parents’ lives. So, stay with us to get a clearer perspective on the effectiveness of parental control apps, and whether they can be the right fit for your family. 

  

A teenage girl taking a provocative selfie with the word “Activity” repeatedly projected over her in the color red

  

Digital Devices in the Hands of Kids

A survey by the Gonski Institute for Education reveals that more than 90% of parents find digital devices highly distracting for themselves, and 83% believe that their children are also negatively affected by them. But in a world that grows more digital by the second, eliminating digital devices from our lives is proving to be almost impossible, not to mention extremely inefficient. However, this inevitability shouldn’t stop us from looking for practical ways to decrease the harm of digital devices. None of us adults should have to give in to being mentally and physically damaged by them, let alone surrender our children to suffer from them. 

Nowadays, children as young as two years of age are being handed digital devices by parents or other people around them. Even if you’re careful about not handing your child a device, someone else might do it when you’re not around. As the kind of parent who doesn’t want their child exposed to digital devices, you need to make sure your babysitters, friends, and even family members (whether distant or immediate) are also in on your parenting style. 

However, if you have decided it’s time for your child to receive their first digital gadget, you need to take certain precautions to make sure they stay as safe as possible. There are different ways you can protect your child against the underlying dangers of their digital device, but before you start to take action, you need to identify the potential problems. Each particular issue you may observe in your child’s health can be symptomatic of a different digital threat. In the paragraphs below, we will go into further depth about digital threats for you and your child, and how you can take proper action against them. 

  

A little boy with headphones & glasses holding a smartphone up to the camera lens looking scared

  

Digital Dangers 

The potential dangers in your digital devices may vary in sort, but they can generally be divided into two types: 

Online Threats: 

    • Cyberaggression & violence 
    • Sextortion 
    • Exposure to pornography 
    • Cyberbullying 
    • Body-shaming 
    • Grooming 
    • Identity theft 
    • Hacking 
    • Phishing 
    • In-app purchases 
    • Addiction to online shopping 
    • Cyber-suicide

Offline Threats: 

    • Screen addiction 
    • Excessive gaming 

  

It is worth mentioning that some of the problems developed in your child can be the result of both types. So, take into account that the boundaries aren’t always that clear in this matter, and more often than not may overlap. 

  

Potential Problems 

Being exposed to digital dangers can cause two major kinds of problems for you and your child: physical and mental. Below, you can find a list of these issues. 

Physical Issues: 

  • Reduced physical activity 
  • Obesity 
  • Sleep-deprivation 
  • Poor quality of sleep  

  

Mental Issues: 

  • Behavioral problems (like foul language) 
  • Underdevelopment of social skills 
  • Lack of concentration 
  • Lack of interest 
  • Short attention span 
  • Excessive attention-seeking  
  • Extreme aggression & violence 
  • Eating disorders 
  • Depression 
  • Suicide 
  • Substance abuse 

  

A teenage boy blogger making a creepy face going live on social media

  

A World Without the Internet 

It may have taken two years and a global pandemic to finally make us realize that the world has entirely transformed from what it used to be, and whether you like it or not, there is no way back. The prominent role of the internet during the Covid19 pandemic cannot be overstated. A UN report indicates that an additional 782 million people started to use the internet since the beginning of the pandemic in 2019. And I think we can all agree on the fact that the already bad enough effects of the pandemic would have been much more catastrophic had there been no internet. 

It seems as though four centuries have passed since the internet was just finding its way out of its birth canal four decades ago. It is no secret that the internet has been a massive game-changer in the way the world’s been functioning in the past forty years. And it’s difficult to comprehend the extent to which individuals, and by extension, families and societies have altered due to the digitalization of the world. 

At the same time, we cannot rule out the negative effects the internet has had on us and our children. During the lockdown of the Covid19 pandemic, there was an unprecedented rise in children’s screen time all over the world. Yes, the internet has been a huge help at this difficult time, but the question is, how far are we willing to go just to hang on to this sense of connectedness to the world? I think it’s fair to say that most parents, while open to the idea of letting their kids use the internet, would prefer to set some restrictions on it to make sure it doesn’t end up devouring their children entirely. 

  

Digital Technology: The Good Side 

Let’s be honest, digital tech is not all bad; if it were, you wouldn’t have been reading this article in the first place. There are many upsides to digital devices for both you and your child, and it would be unfair to deprive your family of them. Social media can help your child find like-minded people their age to connect with, and positive role models to look up to. It can give your child a sense of community, especially if your kid is a bit of an outcast at school. The internet can broaden your child’s view of the world, help them develop informed opinions of their own, become independent learners in fields of their interest, and engage with people they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to. 

It would be a shame to turn a blind eye to all these positive qualities, and shut your kid out of the digital world just because you’re worried they might get hurt. The ugly truth you need to come to terms with as a parent is that we all get hurt in the process of maturation, and as much as you don’t want your kid to be subjected to any harm at all, you need to accept that it’s inevitable. You cannot – and should not – keep your child in your protective shield forever. 

So, although it’s only logical and perfectly understandable for you to want to minimize the danger pointed at your child, you cannot simply cut them off from the internet and digital devices. It’s only fair that they are given the opportunity to experience the digital world for themselves, as they’re rightful citizens of it by birth. They should be able to get a sense of both the advantages and disadvantages of the digital world on their own, especially if they’re on the verge of young-adulthood and are trying to become more independent. 

  

Parental Control Methods 

There are generally two ways in which parents can implement parental controls in case of their children’s digital dependency. Parental control methods are either: 

  • Digital: Through third-party parental control apps, or using the built-in parental control features on your child’s device 

Or: 

  • Low-tech/Physical: Through turning off your router, or taking away your child’s phone, etc. 

  

A teenage boy deeply concentrated on playing a game on a gaming console

  

Digital Parental Controls 

Many parents find physical parental controls insufficient, therefore turn to the digital method. The reason is you don’t always have physical access to your child or their smartphone (which is glued to them in most cases). If they’re at school or having a slumber party at a friend’s house, the only way you can make sure they don’t overuse their phone is to lock it remotely or block their access to unnecessary apps. And this can only be achieved by using parental control apps. 

In implementing digital parental controls on your child’s devices, you should consider certain factors. For instance: 

  • Your child’s age 
  • Their level of responsibility 
  • Their level of digital dependency 
  • Your level of trust 

  

Parental Control Apps: Savior or False Messiah? 

A poll taken in the United States suggests that around 80% of parents monitor their child’s use of digital devices in one way or another. Another study shows that more than 90% of parents who use parental control apps consider them useful. But let me tell you something: parental control apps are only as useful as you make them be. If you take them for a magic spell that suddenly turns your child’s device into something non-threatening, then you probably will be disappointed. These statistics don’t mean anything without involved active parenting from your side. But that doesn’t mean parental control apps can’t bring you the good results you’re looking for. It does, however, take a good amount of effort on your part and your child’s cooperation to achieve this goal. 

If your kid’s not on board with this plan, then no amount of parental restriction will keep them from doing as they very well please on their digital devices. If you insist too firmly on setting parental controls on their smartphone, they might even get a second one secretly just to avoid your restrictions. It’s your job as a parent to get them on board. I know, it’s easier said than done, but getting into parenting, you knew it wouldn’t come easy. 

  

Misusing Parental Control Apps 

Misusing parental control apps might make your child feel as though they’re living under surveillance. It might even result in your child’s inability to develop self-control when being handed a digital device. If you constantly limit and restrict every single thing they do on their smartphone, they may have difficulty turning into autonomous young adults when you’re finally ready to give up parental controls. It may also make them obsessed with using digital devices, as being the target of extreme prohibition tends to have this effect on human beings. You need to use these apps in a way that prepares your child for self-implementing control over digital device usage, not disable them from it.  

You need to be aware that some parental control apps aren’t flexible enough to let you change their level of severity as your child grows up. Tweens and younger kids need more monitoring and restrictions, while teenagers need more privacy and freedom on their devices. When picking a parental control app, make sure to take this point into account. 

  

A little girl in the dark, staying up late using her computer

  

The Upside of Parental Control Apps 

There are many positive qualities to parental control apps, you just need to use them properly to get the desired results. A good parental control app enables you, among other things, to: 

  • Limit your child’s screen time by setting a screen time schedule on their device 
  • Restrict certain apps and age-inappropriate content for your child 
  • Filter explicit or violent websites and keywords in search results 
  • Get notified whenever someone comments or sends texts containing explicit or unsuitable language 
  • Be aware of your child’s location at any given time 

By way of a parental control app, you can protect your child against cyberbullies, groomers, phishers, and hackers. You can also defend your child against false accusations. For example, one parent says that her teenage son’s ex-girlfriend accused the boy of unwanted sexual advances on a social media platform. The parent, who had a parental control app installed on her son’s phone, could then prove these accusations to be false and simply a vindictive way for the teenage girl to handle the breakup. 

  

How Do Kids Feel About Parental Controls? 

It doesn’t come as a surprise that parental control apps, although highly popular among parents, don’t share the same amount of popularity among children. Kids have been leaving reviews on the parental control apps their parents are using on the Play Store, App Store, and even forums concerning parenting techniques. And the record shows that they’re not too happy about it. And caring attentive parents would be wise enough to hear them out and look for a way to meet them halfway. 

In many of these reviews, kids say that parental control apps disregard their privacy, and also encourage lazy parenting. But what do they mean by that exactly? Many kids think their parents use parental controls as the only means to keep them safe on their devices, and it ticks them off. Some kids even go as far as to say that their parents use parental control apps merely to assert dominance over them. If this sounds like a call for help, that’s precisely because it is. 

Parents shouldn’t base their entire digital parenting technique on simply restricting their child’s access to certain things. Your kid needs you to communicate with them first before you take any drastic measures, especially if they’re already a teenager. If they’re too young for a serious talk about digital safety, you can use other methods – like reading them a storybook – to educate them about this matter, although using parental controls is certainly a must for our younger ones. 

Some teens believe that they should be given a chance to manage their own screen time before their parents start to interfere with parental controls.  They think parental controls are only necessary if a child keeps going overboard with their screen time, or disregards their parents’ rules for using digital devices. These teens argue that if they’re not making trouble and are on their best behavior, they don’t need to be monitored by means of parental controls. And some kids can actually be so well-behaved that putting parental controls on their devices might seem irrelevant. 

The point missed by these kids is that using parental controls isn’t just about controlling your child’s behavior. For instance, many children aren’t even looking for explicit content on the internet, and yet are accidentally exposed to it. The problem is that these teens don’t take all factors into consideration when demanding parental controls be lifted from their devices. 

  

A father, mother, and daughter sitting on a couch, consumed by their digital devices

  

Teens also believe their parents are being hypocrites when they overly insist on using very strict parental controls on their phones. To be honest, that’s not that far off from the truth. You yourself have been a teen at some point in your life, and know what it’s like to crave freedom and independence at that age. And believe me when I tell you overprotective parents can do more harm than good. They might eliminate certain dangers from their child’s life, but they’re inflicting severe mental damage upon their child, although not intentionally. 

As the adult in the relationship, you need to make sure you don’t fall into the same trap you want to protect your child from. If you solely rely on parental control apps to keep your child from being on their smartphone 24/7, you’re essentially omitting the most significant part of parenting from the equation, only leaving the digital portion of it, expecting an effective outcome. If this is the case, then let me tell you loud and clear, it will NOT work. Your child needs a more intimate personal approach than just your digital surveillance, and they deserve one. 

  

Try to Make a Good First Impression! 

Never underestimate the power of a good first impression, as it goes a long way. This rule also applies to the parental control app you want to install on your kid’s device. It’s important how you first introduce it to them, so they wouldn’t be taken off-guard. Make sure to sit down with them and have a good talk about why you’ve decided to take this approach, and how a parental control app can affect both of you. 

Your child might object, even get angry, and feel their privacy invaded, but that’s to be expected. You can think of the different ways they may react and be ready to respond calmly and properly. Hear them out, and if you find their arguments valid, you can then decide what approach to take together. 

If parents learn anything from years and years of parenting is that shutting out their teenager from the discussion can only make a bad situation worse. Teens tend to be very sensitive, moody, self-righteous, and even downright aggressive at times. If you don’t listen to their side of the argument, things may quickly escalate, driving a terrible wedge between you and your kid. 

  

A depressed little boy looking at his smartphone screen sitting at his school staircase

  

Ready, Set, Install! (Or Maybe Not) 

Ultimately, each kid is different, as is each parent. Something that works for you and your kid, might not have the same effect for another parent and child. It all depends very much on the interactive relationship between you and your child, and the circumstances in your household. There is no single method that can work for everybody. Your being well-informed, honest, and flexible with your kid, all the while maintaining a certain amount of assertiveness, can make all the difference. It’s a fine line, and you might feel dizzy at times, but you will be able to keep your balance if you’re trying. 

All things considered; parental control apps can be highly useful. You just need to pick the right one and use it properly. A good parental control app can be a very effective and beneficial tool if used the right way, as it can slowly prepare your child for self-protection against digital dangers on their journey to adulthood. 

One of the best and most flexible parental control apps on the market, Safes, can help you keep your kid safe from harm on their digital devices, all the while avoiding intrusion in their privacy. Use it wisely, and your child can remain safe and sound, even within the boundaries of the digital realm.

Mahsa V.

Mahsa V.

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