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Teens and Technology: Parenting Online the Way You Do Offline

By Diana Simeon

Like many parents, you may be grappling with how—and how much—to monitor your adolescent’s technology. A lot? A little? Somewhere in between?

Well, it depends. On you.

“Parenting doesn’t change because it’s digital,” says Hemanshu Nigam, an online security expert and father of four. “How you parent offline can help determine how you parent online.”

In other words, if you’re a parent who wants to know a lot about your adolescent’s activities, then chances are you’ll want to keep close tabs online too. If you’re a parent who’s more hands off, then you’ll likely be that way online. Of course, your adolescent’s personality may also dictate the kind of monitoring you do. Some adolescents simply need more oversight than others.

But the number one rule for any kind of monitoring of teens and technology: tell your kids exactly what you’re doing.

“If you decide to monitor, it’s important to be upfront about it,” says parenting expert Amy Speidel. “This allows you to discuss with your adolescent about why you believe this is an important part of keeping them safe.”

Telling your adolescent you are monitoring will help him accept that it’s about his well-being. Not telling—or snooping—only sends the message that you don’t trust your teenager.

The Nuts and Bolts Of Digital Parenting

Here are the two basic forms of monitoring teens and technology, and you may find some version of each useful:

Third-party software programs: There are many (many) software programs that keep an eye on your adolescent’s online activity. These programs come in several flavors. Some allow you to monitor everything, from the particular sites your adolescent uses to the nitty-gritty details—as in exact keystrokes typed into your adolescent’s device. You can also use them to limit your adolescent’s online time and his access to sites or activities on your network (e.g. you can block access to pornography and dozens of other categories). Check out our resource page to get started.

A two-party system: If a third-party software program that tracks everything is more than you want, then you can do the monitoring yourself. Simply let your adolescent know that you will check her device on a regular basis, including viewing her social media activity, texts, and emails. How often is up to you, but even intermittent checks can be helpful. “There’s nothing stronger than intermittent reinforcement,” Speidel explains. “If your adolescent thinks it could happen anytime, then they are more likely to assume it could happen anytime.”

Talk, Talk, Talk

Remember: your teen can work around even the most stringent monitoring system. She could a use public network or a friend’s device, for example. Indeed, if your monitoring leads to your adolescent sneaking behind your back, you may want to rethink your approach.

“If you’re setting up a situation in which you’re saying, ‘I am going to find out everything I can about you,’ they’ll probably go underground,” Speidel says.

In general, adds Speidel, the key is keeping the lines of communication open as your adolescent heads into the teenage years. “Ultimately, it’s knowing your kid in real time, in real life, and having conversations that will make the difference.”


Diana Simeon

Diana Simeon is an editorial consultant for Your Teen.