Jul 26, 2023

The Number One Question I Get Asked and How I Respond

The Number One Question I Get Asked and How I Respond

The question I get asked the most is, “What parental controls do I need?” To the surprise of many parents, my short answer is: None.

The question I get asked the most is, “What parental controls do I need?” To the surprise of many parents, my short answer is: None.

what parental controls do I need? Image of locked phone.
what parental controls do I need? Image of locked phone.
what parental controls do I need? Image of locked phone.

The longer answer is more complicated. I wrote a blog post about ten reasons why I don’t recommend parental controls, which you can read here, but let me highlight them again here:

  1. Kids find the workarounds. Always. Every time. There are entire YouTube channels and Reddit threads dedicated to helping kids find the hacks. They’re way savvier than we are.

  2. Parental controls do not teach children to self-regulate. Kids’ brains are not adult brains. (And let’s be honest– it’s not like adults are great at self-regulating their own screen use).

  3. Parental controls create more work for parents. Don’t think that parental controls will make life easier; it’s the opposite. So many parents tell me it feels like a full-time job to manage the controls themselves. I’d rather see you invest that time and energy into real-life interactions with your kids.

  4. Technology companies created (much) of this problem, so it sure seems like a conflict to have them also provide the solution. And in fact, they benefit, because now we pay them to help us (while also siphoning our data).

  5. Parental controls reinforce inequities. Even a thin layer of controls (like setting time limits) costs something– money, time, knowledge. Not all parents can provide this. Thus certain populations of children are more vulnerable than others. All children deserve protection.

  6. Tech companies are not being altruistic by offering parental controls features. Any changes they do make are to comply (barely) with laws; not to protect children. In order to meaningfully protect children, they would have to change their entire business model, which I don’t see happening any time soon.

  7. Parents are constantly blamed for their children’s screentime issues. Even parents of younger kids will look at parents of older kids and think, “Why don’t you just say ‘No’?” Ha. If it were that easy, I wouldn’t be so busy! The tech industry and its apologists want to blame parents for this: it’s much easier to do that than to be accountable for the fact that they’ve hired developmental psychologists to design products to be intentionally manipulative and addictive, especially for children. 

  8. But parents do have work to do. As I tell parents, it’s not our fault, but it is still our job. A lot of parents have no idea how deep these issues go (and how much harder they get as our kids get older). Your intentions may be good, but it’s a rare parent who has the full picture of what their kids are doing online. And it’s wayyyyy easier to handle this when our kids are younger. 

  9. Parental controls do not monitor in-app content. This is such a misunderstood part of monitoring. There is a reason for this. Instagram and other platforms do not allow third-party companies to monitor in-app content. Even the best, most expensive controls cannot do this. Do not be fooled by clever marketing

  10. Parental controls do not teach our children the right lessons. They bypass the relationships we need to build as a family. They do not instruct children what to do when (not if) they see porn or violence or misinformation. That is, and always will be, our job. Don’t outsource that to an app. 

Ok. I’m sure you’re wondering: “Fine. So what can we do?! How can we be on top of all this without parental controls or monitoring tools!?”

Here’s what I suggest: If you have parental controls that work for your family, fine. Keep them. But go and check. Make sure that your kids are really doing what the app tells you they are doing. Talk to them about fake accounts (there are many) and workarounds (also many). Ask them if they share devices with their friends (many do). If you’ve given them smartphone alternatives (like Gabb or Bark) find out if they have burner phones (again, many do). 

This isn’t about not trusting our kids. Kids are kids. Teens are teens. Their brains are still firing and wiring. They are impulsive, short-sighted, and not always able to see the forest for the trees. Tell your kids, “It’s developmentally normal for you to be curious. I want to trust you, but I don’t trust the internet. So we have to talk about this openly and often without getting mad.”

This work, as challenging as it is, starts in the conversations we have around screentime in our house, from the day we bring our babies home. That may seem crazy to think about, but it is never too early to start. Truly.

As I often say, “There is no app for parenting: we are the app.”

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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.