Manage Your Child’s Online Privacy

Oaklee’s Guest Post by Amy Williams, former social worker specializing in teen behavioral health and parent of two teenagers. 

At what age should you start considering setting digital boundaries for your child? While it may not seem necessary until the teenage years, you should be planning just how to monitor (and when to not monitor) your child’s technology use as soon as they have access to technology. While this kind of attention is most pertinent during teenage years, keeping the bigger picture in mind will help develop a fairer, more comprehensive plan.

A recent study by the Pew Research Center found that teens are sharing more information than ever before, often before they realize how much of an effect their actions can have. As a parent, it’s essential to figure out a way to balance respect for your child’s privacy with a genuine concern for their safety–which can oftentimes feel intrusive, but make a significant difference in protecting your child online.


Setting Boundaries

It’s a good idea to make it clear from the very beginning that using a device is a privilege – and like any privilege, it can be lost if they fail to meet certain requirements. There are a number of reason for this, but the most important are:


  • Thwarting Feelings of Resentment: Teens can be very attached to their electronic devices. They are often times a primary means of connection to their friends as well as a major source of entertainment and a way to feel in touch with the world and part of a larger group. Few things will make a teen resent you more than taking away their device, so it’s absolutely vital that you strike a deal with them beforehand.


  • What’s Appropriate and What’s Not: While there are times it’s appropriate for your child to play games, or socialize on apps, your child is likely going to decide, at one point or another, that these games or apps are more important than listening to you. Setting limits on when the device can be used (such as forbidding it at the dinner table) can help you ensure that your teen is ready to listen when you’re ready to talk.


  • Giving You Rewards to Offer: Most teens will work amazingly hard if it means more privileges on their electronic devices. Placing many boundaries at the start means you’ll also be able to remove boundaries later on, usually as your child demonstrates that they deserve the freedom. Understanding not just how to communicate with teens but how to persuade them will make sure you can communicate openly and keep their best interest as a priority.


Teens and Trust

Steven Krugman, a licensed psychologist from Massachusetts, gave an excellent overview of this in a 2011 paper on the teenage brain. The short version is that a lot of what teens do is the result of biology, not just their upbringing or current environment. This is why teens can oftentimes behave in ways that seem confusing or irrational.

Tools like monitoring apps, household rules, and limits on their freedom may seem harsh if you’ve been a permissive parent in the past, but they’re actually one of the most effective ways of protecting your child from threats they don’t understand. You might not even tell them everything you’re doing – at least, once they’re old enough to strike a deal with you.

Don’t forget to focus on explaining why you’ve set the limits you have – looking a teen straight in the eye and explaining why posting personal information is dangerous can work much better than simply telling them not to do it (especially if they really want to join their friends on some form of social media). Use this explanation as a starting point for a conversation about what they can do to earn your trust and gain more privileges over time – teens hate it when they feel their sacred right to a smartphone is unfairly restricted, but offering them a way to earn what they want can defuse the tension and motivate them to do what you want them to.