It’s a truism. Every millennial parent is uneasy about the amount of time there children are spending connected to the internet. Collectively we all feel our internet-age children are spending too much time online, but most of us – for a variety of reasons – aren’t doing much about it.
Today the average 7 year-old child has already spent one
full year of 24 hour days in front of a screen. That’s 1 full year they weren’t playing with
tactile toys like Lego and Play Doh, or drawing and coloring, or playing hide
and seek, or riding their bikes outside.
There are no long-term generational studies to prove that
spending many hours online every day is detrimental to a child’s future growth
and development. Significantly, however,
there are no long-term generational studies to disprove it either. That’s because this entire tech phenomenon
isn’t even a generation old yet!
Facebook, seemingly here for ages, just turned 11 this past February and
Google is an ancient 17 years old.
The entire worry over tech addiction is unique to this
generation of parents and has snuck up on us like a high speed train – leaving
us dazed and confused. However, our
collective spider sense is tingling and we need to start listening to our
gut. If it feels like your kids are
spending too much time online….then they probably are.
So what can you do about it especially if you are not
tech-savvy? Here are 7 ways to start
playing a more active role in raising your children on line.
1) Be Honest About What Kind of Digital Parent
You Really Are
When it comes to thinking about tech-addiction
as it pertains to your children, which of the
following best describes you:
Ignorant of the problem - "What problem?"
of the problem – “My beautiful, popular, 16-year old straight “A” daughter is
doing great. She studies hard in her
bedroom all the time.”
to the problem – “I don’t understand this generation. It is what it is. They will land on their feet.”
about the problem – “I don’t think all this ‘screen’ time is healthy but I
don’t know what I can do about it.”
Life is crazy busy for most of us,
but as parents we need to find the time to be mindful about our kids’ tech
media consumption. Learn more about
this phenomenon and why a growing number of people – from doctors, psychologies,
sociologists, and educators, to journalists, computer scientists, philosophers,
and (most importantly) parents – are becoming deeply concerned over the
potential for significant long-term negative side effects for the iGeneration.
Assess Your Home Internet Domain
If you are going to wrap your arms around this issue you first need to
understand that there are 2 different Internet domains in your home to manage:
the home broadband network - provided by your Internet service provider (ISP) through the router in your house, and where you get your WiFi connection from when you are at home
the mobile network – provided by your
cellular provider through the cell towers in your neighborhood, and
where your mobile phone gets its data plan connectivity from
Managing your child’s online activities effectively – especially for
tweens and teens that have their own mobile phones – requires a plan for
dealing with both of these Internet domains. If you only manage one, the child can easily
switch to the other since today’s smart phones support connections on both
kinds of network.
Take Back Control Over Your Home Networks
Once you have identified the scope of your home Internet domain, the next
step is to take back control over how it is used. Therefore, you want to find an Internet Parental Controls solution that
works for both of these networks. And
what works best is different depending on the network you are talking about.
For your home broadband network you want to stay away from a parental
control solution that is device-centric.
Gone are the days from 5-7 years ago when everyone shared the “family PC”
in the den. Kids today have too many
personal WiFi-enabled devices to go online with from any room in the
house, including laptops, game consoles,
iPods, iPads and tablets, eBook readers, TVs, and mobile phones. You will go crazy downloading, installing,
configuring and administering parental control software on each of those
devices. Device-centric parent controls
for the home broadband network is a broken and antiquated model. If the parental control solution you are
looking at requires you to “download software” then stay clear as it won’t
scale with the number of devices in the house.
Instead look for a parental control solution that works with your
router, through which all home broadband wifi connections go through to
access the Internet. Having a single
point of access to “choke” is infinitely easier to manage then dealing with all
of those disparate devices – most of which our kids know more about then we
One solution to manage the router is to use the parental controls
features likely built right into the router itself. Nearly every router has some way to restrict
access of devices to the internet.
However, because routers are designed for IT-Pro type technical folks,
you won’t be able to use most of these router parental control features unless
you have a basic understanding of networking concepts such as IP Addresses, MAC
addresses, firewalls, packet filtering, and DNS Servers to name a few. These leaves the vast majority of us mere
mortals high and dry.
Nonetheless the principal of controlling a home broadband network from
the router directly is fundamentally a solid approach, so all you need is an
easy way to do this. The WebCurfew.com service is a website that provides exactly
that – a free, parent-friendly way to manage the internet
connectivity of ALL of the devices connect to your home router, as easily as you
would your living room light switch.
Simply visit the WebCurfew.com website and tell it the make and model of
the router you already have in your home, and if it is one of the dozens of
routers WebCurfew supports as of this writing, you can see and control them all
from an easy to use, personalized Control Panel webpage. No software to download, or devices to deal
But what about the mobile network?
The above “router-centric” approach doesn’t work here since mobile
phones generally have a “data plan” that works on the cellular network provided
by cell towers in your neighborhood. To
control the devices for this network you do need to look at a solution that
your cellular provider offers. Visit
their website or call up their customer support and tell them you are looking
for parental controls for your son or daughters mobile phone. They will be happy (because they charge you
for the extra service) to explain your options.
In summary, use a cloud-based approach like WebCurfew to control your
home broad network and use parental controls provided by your cellular provider
to control the mobile phones in your home.
This approach will ensure ALL use of the internet is managed in your
home – including mobile phones regardless of whether they are using their data
plan network connection, or the home wifi network connection.
Put limits on where they go online
How can you easily control where your kids go when they are online – the
websites that they visit and the content they consume? For this you need a web content filtering strategy.
This, once again, must be instigated separately on the two different
networks in your home internet domain.
For the home broadband network, you can use available free web content
filtering services such as those that come with WebCurfew.com or with OpenDNS.com.
These services allow you to select from a litany of broad categories of
internet content such as ‘Pornography’, ‘Gaming’ or ‘Social Networking’ and
block all content pertaining to them.
With a one-time configuration to your router (note the WebCurfew service
can often do this automatically for you) you will have an easy, effective way
of preventing anyone in your house from visiting undesirable websites from any
device attached to your home broadband network.
With respect to mobile phones in your home, to control the content
filtering on those devices you will once again have to speak to your cellular
provider to understand the features they offer in this area.
Put limits on when they go online
It is very important to limit the total time children spend online
regardless of their age. This is the
single biggest thing a parent can do to reduce the potential for tech-addiction
developing. For this you will want to
restrict the times at which your children’s devices have access to the
As mentioned above for the home broadband network you should do this via
your router – either directly using the built in (albeit technical) parental
controls and/or firewall settings of your router, or more simply with the WebCurfew.com service.
Choose the times when your children are allowed to go online and be sure
to be consistent. For example, consider
making it the norm in your home that kids can go online in the evening after
dinner and homework for a set amount of time, but that all internet is shut off
a half an hour before bed to allow time for book reading.
Similarly use the Internet Parental controls provided by your cellular
provider to limit when their mobile phone data plans are available, thereby
ensuring they have no way to “go online” unless you wish to allow it.
Set Clear Expectations
If you make the decision to implement a holistic home internet strategy
as described above, be sure to sit down and discuss it with your children. Many parents make the mistake of just
installing the system and then are surprised or angered when their kids, who
have until that point had unrestricted access to the internet, try to get
around it. Kids won’t try to cheat if
they know they will get caught, so let them know that you are instigating boundaries
on their internet usage, for their own good, because everyone needs “seat
belts” to keep them safe.
Children do not have the self-discipline to limit their own usage, and
you need to let them know that it is your job as a responsible parent to set
fair but firm boundaries. Consider
asking them when they would like to have their hour of internet time every
day. Perhaps after school is better for
them than after dinner/homework time. If
they feel a part of the decision making they won’t feel as “controlled”.
Finally, before you give your 12 year-old a shiny new internet-enabled
device, consider having them sign your own version of an ‘iRules
Contract’. This is a great way to establish your
expectations around appropriate technology use, as well as clearly set out the
consequences when they inevitably slip up.
It’s also a great away to broach the subject of parental controls as
general parenting strategy with your child.
Learn to Trust Your Children
There is another entire category of parent control solutions, best
described as “surveillance tools” that allow you to spy or otherwise keep tabs
on your children without them knowing it – at least initially. Consider carefully the message you are
sending to your child if you use these tools to keep track of what they type in
text messages or post on-line, what pictures they take, what games they play,
or where they go with their phones.
While it is important to be a part of their digital lives, it is also
important to have mutual respect in the parent-child relationship. If you are crystal clear on your expectations
of them as digital citizens while providing responsible boundaries, then you
make it easier for them to succeed.
You don’t let your
kids raise themselves in the streets, so why would you let them raise
themselves online? You need to take
action to ensure that your kids have safe, healthy boundaries around their
online usage. Parenting in the
internet age doesn’t have to be hard. By
taking back control of your home internet domain, putting responsible limits in
place, setting clear expectations and consequences and enforcing those limits
by implementing a ‘web curfew’ with great free resources like WebCurfew.com, you can raise children that
use the internet in a balanced and responsible way.