Managing Screen Time and Privacy | Could Parental Control Apps Do More Harm than Good?

privacy and screen time with the family

As kids enter their teenage years, they start to value their privacy more and more. This can be difficult for parents who constantly worry about how their children are spending their time and who they’re spending their time with.

The use of digital devices amplifies those worries, because it’s almost as if your kids are living a separate life away from your eyes, and you may find yourself wanting to know what’s going on.

One of your concerns about your child may be whether their internet use is causing them harm. Research is ongoing about how digital exposure might impact brain, emotional, or social development. Early findings from recent study out of the University of Central Florida, however, indicate parental control software may be damaging to relationships between children and parents.

Protecting the Developing Brain

Today’s hand-held, always-on technology is definitely changing how kids are growing up. No longer chained to landlines or single locations, connected children can access virtually any educational, social, or entertainment tool within seconds from nearly anywhere. While that digital access opens the entire world to those young and exploring eyes, it also opens doors to darker opportunities that can cause harm instead of enjoyment.

Unfettered internet access can lure kids into making any number of poor choices – sharing their personal information with strangers, spending money they don’t have, or even making plans with a stranger they met online. Research reveals many of these online threats can and do cause harm to children:

  • Cyberbullying – Picking on another person is easier when done from the distance of the internet. That’s likely why a 2017 CDC study found nearly 15% of high school students admit they’ve experienced cyberbullying.
  • Cyber predators – These criminals pose as children to lure young ones into ‘friendships’ that can eventually become dangerous.
  • Inappropriate posting – Some kids will send personal images or comments that reveal them in compromising situations to appeal to a new ‘friend,’ only to have them remain as a stain on the child’s profile for years to come.

As a parent, you may be struggling to find a way to manage these threats while also allowing your child the space and time they need to grow and learn. Many families address technology concerns with more technology, but finding the right solution brings up additional questions.

Are Parental Control Apps the Answer?

On the surface, parental control apps appear to offer a solution. Among many other things, the apps can be programmed to limit the child’s time on digital devices, block access to certain websites or content, and track online activities. The technology is helpful because it can alert parents when their child is veering into a dark corner of the internet or chatting online with an unknown person. Getting those notifications gives the parent the opportunity to intervene and steer the child away from potentially risky activity.

The challenge with relying on parental control apps, however, is that the parents can also develop an unhealthy reliance on the technology in place of real conversations. Further, when used inappropriately, the apps can create a dangerous divide between parent and child.

To the kids, the app creates the feeling that they can’t be trusted. A preliminary survey from the University of Central Florida, found two-thirds of teens questioned said their relationship with their parents soured after the installation of the app. Their biggest concern: if their parent doesn’t trust the child, how can the child trust the parent?

Having an app in place didn’t shield the child from inappropriate content, either. Teens whose parents were using these apps reported more incidents of exposure to explicit material and online harassment than kids whose parents did not use the software. The app also didn’t replace the parent’s role in keeping the child safe. Experts who reviewed the research surmised that at least some of the child respondents might not have been able to bring either of their on- or off-line challenges to their parents.

The bottom line is that technology cannot replace real, honest parenting. And, at some point, parents need to trust their children to make smart and responsible choices in both the digital and physical worlds.

The Solution to the Child/Technology Conundrum

TechDen has developed a solution to the ‘app vs. no app’ question. And, an important part of that solution involves the way families approach the topics of screen time and personal privacy.

Some parental control apps are nothing more than ways to spy on your kids. Others intrusively shut down devices to impose parent-mandated screen time limits. But, these methods can breed rebellion, creating division and mistrust in the home as kids look for ways to get around the rules while parents look for ways to snoop and maintain control. That’s not how TechDen works.

TechDen gives families a better way to tackle the problem. Keeping lines of communication open becomes more challenging as your kids get older. But, TechDen is designed to generate authentic conversations in your family.

With TechDen, the family makes the decisions about how much and what kind of tech time is appropriate. Parents and kids can discuss why limits are necessary and then determine how the child can get the best use out of their device with those limits in place.

Your children will soon realize that the best way to get you to respect their privacy is to respect the family’s screen time plan. Instead of forcing kids to put down their devices, TechDen’s app gives them friendly reminders of the screen time schedule to which they’ve already agreed.

When time’s up, they place their device in The Den – a charging and storage station that keeps devices out of sight and out of mind until the next screen time window opens. Both the Den and the app make sure everyone maintains those agreements and the agreements themselves can be changed over time as the child grows.

Ask nearly any parent who’s raised a teenager. Pull back the reins too much and they have a tendency to rebel. Your goal is finding the right balance and the sooner you start the better.

Find out more about how TechDen works when you see how families can manage screen time together, bringing you peace of mind and harmony in your home.