Sep 8, 2023

An Open Letter to Parents About Parental Controls

An Open Letter to Parents About Parental Controls

Dear Parent, 

Thanks for your inquiry! Like so many other parents who reach out to me for help, your first question to me was this: “Which parental controls should I use?” 

My short answer is “None.”

I get asked this question a lot. Your intentions are good. You reached out because you know this issue is real and you want change. But you’re starting from a faulty assumption. 

Let me explain. 

First, I understand your desire to seek control over this situation because you want to address the screentime challenge. You want a quick fix solution. You want to dial back the stress and mess that comes with kids and screentime. 

But the problem is that parental controls don’t work. (If they did, I wouldn’t get asked this question all the time.)

If the reality is that if you’re calling to work with me in the hopes that you can get out of the “parenting” side of this challenge, then I need to tell you that I am not your person. 

In fact, if you work with me, you will have to parent harder. Not because you have messed things up or because this is your fault, but because facing this head-on– not trying to outsource a solution– is the only solution that works. 

Parental controls don’t work for three reasons:

  1. You cannot use technology to solve the problem of overuse of technology.  It won’t work because tech is always changing and the tools to monitor it will always need to catch up. It also won’t work because parenting is not algorithmically-based. You cannot design a parenting app that is nuanced enough to handle the situations that will come up (e.g., “It’s okay to post about your grandma, but not about another kid at school” or “This social media app is okay, but that one is not,” etc.) Technology companies are the reason you are seeking out advice about parental controls in the first place. This is like the cigarette industry selling you nicotine patches. 

  2. Big Tech shouldn’t get to make money twice. Big Tech is not incentivized to protect your children. In fact, they are incentivized to harm them in the way they monitor use, collect data, and invade privacy…all for profit. Until the business model of Big Tech changes, whatever parental controls or apps exist will only seek to increase Big Tech’s profits, not protect your children.

  3. The solution comes down to relationships. For generations, parents have faced challenges on a wide variety of topics– nutrition, drugs, sex, friendships, money, school, etc. Parents have always wished for a “magic button” to “fix” these problems. And there has never in the history of parenting ever been such a button. Except one: the relationship you have with your child. The only thing that works in addressing any of these parenting challenges– screentime included– is a parent who gets educated on the subject, teaches their child about it in the context of their family’s values, and then is willing to have those tough but important conversations about them. Yes, the conversations where your kid will say mean things in anger and you will have to look past them, because you are the adult and this isn’t about you. If you don’t have a good relationship with your kid, no solution to any of these typical challenges will work– for drugs, for sex talks, or for screentime. 

I am glad you reached out. It gives me hope when parents seek more information about how to help their kids, and sometimes, when I get an opportunity to reframe things, parents start to see things differently. Sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know!

Let me offer three tips about what you can do to find that screentime solution:

  1. You set the tone. Your kids will do what you do. Are you scrolling before bed? Are you texting and driving? Is your phone your alarm clock? Any tech-intentional parenting strategy starts with assessing our own parental use of technology. It’s definitely a humbling experience, but wow, what a powerful, teachable moment that lasts much longer than a time block in an app. 

  2. Live your life out loud. Simply put, say out loud what you are doing as you do it any time you reach for a digital device. For example, “I’m reaching for my phone to see who just texted” or “I’m looking at the forecast to see what coats we need for the day” or “I’m bored and scrolling through social media.” Go one step further and talk about how these various moments make you feel: “Gosh, I thought scrolling through Instagram would make me feel better, but now I feel defensive and judgmental.”

  3. Use technology intentionally. I’m not “anti-tech”; I’m “tech-intentional.” When your kids want to look something up, see if you can look in a book first. Instead of using your phone as an alarm clock (yes, I’m talking to you!), get an actual alarm clock. You don’t need a phone to wake you up in the morning; you need an alarm.

Thanks for your message! I wish you and your family well.

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Emily Cherkin’s mission is to empower parents to better understand and balance family screentime by building a Tech-Intentional™ movement.

Copyright © 2024 The Screentime Consultant, LLC | All Rights Reserved. | Tech-Intentional™

and The Screentime Consultant, LLC™ are registered trademarks.

The Screentime Consultant Logo Footer image

Emily Cherkin’s mission is to empower parents to better understand and balance family screentime by building a Tech-Intentional™ movement.

Copyright © 2024 The Screentime Consultant, LLC | All Rights Reserved. | Tech-Intentional™

and The Screentime Consultant, LLC™

are registered trademarks.

The Screentime Consultant Logo Footer image

Emily Cherkin’s mission is to empower parents to better understand and balance family screentime by building a Tech-Intentional™ movement.

Copyright © 2024 The Screentime Consultant, LLC | All Rights Reserved. | Tech-Intentional™

and The Screentime Consultant, LLC™ are registered trademarks.