Are you a parent or a spy

Are you a parent or a spy?

Healthy relationships in a family and any relationship are based on trust. To trust is to believe in someone, in their ability to act well. Trust takes time to build and must be nurtured so that it does not break. But that care has to be taken on both sides.

For children and adolescents, knowing that their parents trust them can increase their sense of security in the world, boost their self-esteem and confidence when they try something new, and reassure them that they have someone to turn to when things don’t go according to plan.

For parents and educators, having a trusting relationship makes them more likely to be open to dialogue and listening. In addition, trust fosters frank conversations in which children look to their parents’ guidance.

In the digital landscape, that trust will go a long way in helping us take care of our children. So let’s delve into some ideas.

Our children are always a couple of steps ahead of us regarding technology. Therefore, we cannot be naïve and think they are protected on the Internet just because we install a parental control app.

Studies show that conversations with our children about whom they interact with and what they do in digital spaces are much more effective than any computer program.

This is not to say that parental controls are not helpful, but they are only a means. The important thing is how we use those tools. Doing it right will have two immediate results: on the one hand, there will be effective protection of our child in the networks and on the other hand, it will strengthen the relationship of trust. But on the other hand, misusing parental control apps can erode that trust or send our children to more remote corners of the Internet.

If we approach parental controls as a way of spying on our children or sneaking up on them in the digital space, things tend to end poorly. Strict control and monitoring of screen time have their place in the early years, but it only works in the short run.

Instead, think of parental controls as a conversation starter. See if you can use these tools to understand better the context of your children’s online behaviour, open lines of communication and build trust over time.

Here are some tips to get you started:

  • Start with a conversation. Talk about what safety, kindness and privacy look like online. Parental controls help verify that all family members make good choices; only you can teach them these skills.
  • Establish agreements. An old-fashioned family media agreement helps all family members set the rules together. This may be the time to not only say what is prohibited but also how you want to use technology as a family (e.g., to connect, learn, entertain, etc.). This conversation and document will become something you can revisit over time and return to if you run into problems.
  • Tell them first, then install it. The goal is to encourage responsible behaviour, not to catch your kids misbehaving. Make it clear that all devices will have parental controls before you install them.
  • Explain why. Explain to your children why you are installing parental controls, but clarify that there is no negotiating.
  • Reassure your children that you are not a spy. Explain to them that you will only read some of the lines of every text or message. You will limit yourself to scanning things periodically or reading summary reports to verify that all is well.
  • Stick to it. Hold up your end of the bargain: don’t read every line of your child’s messages! Parental monitoring should build trust between you and your child, not erode it.
  • Don’t jump to conclusions. We often read texts and messages with minimal context. Start by asking your child for the context, explanation or background of what he has seen. Then, ask him to reflect before launching into a long speech. It’s okay to have long silences while your child reflects on their feelings about online interactions.
  • Involve your children. Monitoring software not only gives you a window into your child’s digital life but ideally serves as a mirror. For example, sometimes, our children don’t realize how often they are multitasking or distracted. The best tools not only help us see behaviours but also help our children “see” their technology habits.


Again, use Internet “incidents” as an opportunity to communicate. Ensure Internet incidents are not just a platform for endless lectures or meaningless punishments. For example, if your child uses the search term “sex,” they may really want information about sex and sexuality. Use this opportunity to start meaningful conversations, not shut them down.