Digital Monitoring: the New Parenting Frontier

Digital Monitoring: the New Parenting Frontier


There Are a Number of Different Steps Parents Can Take to Monitor Their Child’s Behavior and Interactions in Digital Spaces.

By Dr. Jason Carroll & Dr. Brian Willoughby

Between the internet and countless social media apps, keeping kids safe and knowing what they’re looking at online is a growing concern. At times, keeping track of our children’s “digital lives” can start to feel like a full-time job. So, what exactly does good digital monitoring look like these days? And what are the best ways to keep track of what your child is doing when they are online?

Avoiding the Extremes

Let’s be honest, as parents, for many of us, questions related to digital monitoring are driven by fear. We all hear the headlines about the risks of social media for teens, inappropriate content on the internet, and even online predators connecting with kids. These topics can be scary to any of us – and given the vast scope of the online world, it’s only natural for any parent to be concerned about threats out there.

Feeling fear as a parent is not always a bad thing. Sometimes there is wisdom in fear if it makes us attentive and vigilant to the things we should pay attention to as parents. But, of course, fear can also lead us to unhealthy extremes. Our goal in deepening our parental knowledge is not to become “helicopter parents” who constantly hover over our children and make every decision for them as they are growing up. As tempting as it may seem on the surface, being overly involved and micro-managing our children’s lives can prevent them from developing resilience and confidence in their own decision-making.

Of course, some parents go too far in the other direction and abandon their children to their privacy. They often hope for the best or shrug their shoulders and say that there is nothing parents can do. Or they simply claim that they can never know as much about technology as their kids do. Healthy digital monitoring avoids each of these extremes. Simply put, healthy digital monitoring is about creating appropriate safeguards for our children, teaching responsible online behavior, and reasonably keeping track of what our children are doing online.

Digital Monitoring Through Disclosure

There are two main ways that parents can monitor their children’s digital behaviors. One is called “disclosure”—or having children telling and showing you what they are doing online. As we have mentioned, disclosure works best when parents have good, open, and caring relationships with their children. Children are more willing to talk to their parents if they think their parents can be trusted, have useful advice to offer, and are open and available to listen and talk. Research on teens shows that the ones who feel close to their parents are more willing to follow family rules and share what is going on in their lives – including online interactions.

As a parent, you are likely experiencing many competing demands on your time. Work or other commitments can keep you away from home and limit your ability to directly monitor your teen. To help bridge this gap, you can use e-mails, text messages, and phone calls to check in with your teen. Where possible, both parents should be involved so that there is more ability to keep an eye on your child. You can also seek the support of other family members, friends, and school staff to help monitor your teen’s activities and behavior. According to research studies, teens who have consistent and proper monitoring of their activities are less likely to engage in unhealthy and unsafe behaviors.

Monitoring Through Watchfulness

The second main way for parents to provide digital monitoring is called “watchfulness.” Now, some of you are probably thinking that watchfulness is just a nice term for surveillance – invoking images of tracking devices on ankles, following children in your car, or video monitoring their every move. Clearly, healthy watchfulness in families doesn’t go that far. So which approach is best, disclosure or watchfulness? Experts recommend a little of both.

Of course, the exact rules you have for electronic devices are up to you. And in many cases, checking in regularly on apps, video games, and what’s happening online is a great way to monitor your child’s digital habits. But, even if you’ve talked to your kids about responsible online behavior and healthy screen-time limits, it’s still tough to manage what they do when you’re not there. So, what are some of the options for parents to set up parental controls that can help them have appropriate watchfulness of their children’s digital behavior? Experts agree that parental controls can support you in your efforts to keep your kids’ internet experiences safe and productive. Experts also agree that parental controls work best when used openly and honestly in partnership with your kids — not as a method to spy on your children behind their backs.

It is important as a parent to figure out what kind of parental controls are best for your child and family. What is best is entirely based on your own family’s needs. Some families can get by with simple browser settings to filter inappropriate content. Some families need help monitoring and regulating excessive screen time patterns. Some parents set up the pattern of regular spot-checks on their kids’ devices. Wherever you are in determining what is best for your family, there are a lot of online guides that can help you make sense of the wide range of options available to you for managing your family’s devices.

Many parents are turning to the growing industry of monitoring apps to help them keep track of their kids’ digital lives. In recent years, a wide variety of monitoring software solutions have been released that allow you to see what children are doing online and set digital boundaries. Parental control apps are becoming more common and advanced in helping parents keep track of their kids’ digital presence. From limiting screen time, blocking specific apps at certain locations, and filtering what content kids can see, parent control apps allow parents to customize their children’s online experience to fit their age and maturity level.

But, again, there are a lot of these services, and it can be a bit daunting to know what will work best for you and your family. We recommend that you spend some time looking at the extensive online guides that review these options. This is definitely an area of parenting where some study time can pay off in real benefits to helping you as a parent have a better parental knowledge of what is happening in your child’s digital life and provide them with timely guidance and correction.


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