Digital Watchdogs: Monitoring your child’s online world

Digital Watchdogs: Monitoring your child’s online world

How can you regain parental control after being too permissive about a child’s online actions?

Jon and Anna are talking about their children’s social media presence, and Anna realizes that she knows very little about what her son is doing online. From her conversation with Jon, Anna learns that her son is involved in an online conflict. What can Anna do to better monitor her son’s digital activity? How can she set these rules now, after her son has been using digital media unmonitored for years?  See how Jon supports Anna in taking steps to become more vigilant about her child’s online world.

In this scenario, you will learn about:

  • Monitoring social media use
  • Family media agreements
  • Teaching digital citizenship

In this scenario, Anna realizes that her son may be witnessing cyberbullying and online conflict, without her knowledge. Situations involving cyberbullying are often more complex than they seem. In both face-to-face bullying and cyberbullying, there are three recognized roles: victim, bully, and bystander. However, a young person who is victimized at school might fight back by saying harmful things online, sometimes through an anonymous or false persona. In addition, a large number of young people may involuntarily become bystanders to cyberbullying through their online social networks, even if they have little knowledge of the situation or those involved.

Cyberbullying is associated with many of the same negative effects as school bullying, including poor self-esteem, substance use, lowered school attendance and grades, and mental health problems. Yet unlike face-to-face bullying, cyberbullying can be perpetrated anonymously — and can occur wherever and whenever young people have access to the internet. Hurtful messages and images can be spread to hundreds of people within seconds, and are nearly impossible to erase permanently.

Anna has to learn from Jon how to teach her son about digital citizenship. Digital citizenship is a set of standards for appropriate, responsible online behavior that can serve as guidelines for young people, and for the adults who are helping them to stay safe. For more information on digital citizenship and its role in preventing cyberbullying, check out the Digital Citizenship resource.

Monitor your child’s digital media use

Digital media is a powerful tool that allows us to connect with each other across great distances. But as with any powerful tool, you are responsible for teaching your child how to use it safely.

Set your own rules for monitoring. Decide what sites you feel comfortable with and how involved you need to be in monitoring. You may want to use parental control tools that allow you to watch your child’s web activity. It’s important to let your child know that you will be monitoring their online activity to protect them—make sure you have their usernames and passwords. To respect your child’s privacy, don’t read any more than is necessary to ensure that your child is acting safely and appropriately online.

Many families also establish limits on digital media use. Some rules you might use: keep electronic devices in open areas where it is easy for parents to monitor; no cell phone use during family meals; no electronic devices in your child’s room at night. If you want to try making a written contract, check out the examples provided on this site.

Make Use of Privacy Settings

Very little that is shared on digital media is truly private. Help children learn how to protect themselves by reviewing the privacy settings on their social media sites with them. Adjust the settings to share information only with people your child knows. Check the settings often, as the options can change when sites update their policies.

To bolster these privacy protections, make sure your child knows never to share full names, addresses, or phone numbers online. Children’s passwords should be shared only with their parents.