In March and April, Knowledge Networks asked 535 pairs of parents and their teens a number of questions about Internet use. The results were interesting:
- 28% of teens believe their parents are not checking their Web browsing history. But of these teens, 41% of their parents say they are in fact checking it.
- 49% of teens say they don’t know if their parents are monitoring their Internet browsing. Of these, 66% of their parents say they are monitoring them.
- 64% of parents say they monitor where their teens go online, but 42% of teens have cleared their browsing history.
- 32% of teens say they do not know if their parents use any monitoring or filtering software. Of these, 27% of parents say they actually do use these services.
Game of Cat and Mouse
Studies like this intrigue me because they show how Internet use in the home is often a game of cat and mouse.
Think about this: Put 100 average teens into a room. This study says 77 of them either think their parents aren’t checking in on them, or don’t know if they are. 33 of those 77 (42%) might be surprised to find out their parents actually are monitoring their Internet use in some way.
Or think about this: Nearly two-thirds of parents say they try to monitor where their kids go online. Not bad. But over 4 out of 10 teens erase their browsing history.
Spying vs. Ignorance vs. Accountability
In case it isn’t obvious, spying on your teen’s behavior usually does not engender trust. Sneaking around to find out what they’re doing online usually doesn’t help you build your relationship with them.
We know this instinctively, but why do so many parents do it?
They do it because they think there is only one alternative: Ignorance. Parents think, “If I don’t spy on my kids’ Internet activity, then I’ll never know what they are doing.”
Actually, there is another option: Accountability. The difference between Spying and Accountability is huge. A child who is accountable knows they are being monitored: he or she has bought into the idea that being watched is a good thing.
5 Ways to Create a Culture of Accountability at Home
1. Use technology to help.
Don’t rely on manual monitoring. Not only do kids like to cover their tracks, often manual monitoring is unreliable and sporadic. Buy good accountability software instead. This will do a lot of the hard work for you, sending you regular reports of what your kids are doing online.
2. Start early.
If your child grows up in a home where they are not allowed to nurture a secret life online, this will help to establish a pattern of expectations at home.
When they first start venturing out on the Internet, remind them that the World Wide Web is like a big city—full of life, fun, but also full of dark alleys. As a responsible family, we don’t want to let each other walk around alone in the big city. We could unknowingly wander into places we shouldn’t be or talking to people we shouldn’t talk to. This is why Mommy and Daddy always keep tabs on where you go online. We want to help you go to the best places in the city, not the worst.
3. Model it as an adult.
Kids are far less likely to see something as babyish if they see Mommy and Daddy doing it themselves. Let your kids know that we all hold each other accountable. Daddy knows where Mommy is going online. Mommy knows where Daddy is going online. Their lives are open books. They watch each other’s backs. They don’t keep secrets. That’s what people who love each other do.
As they grow up explain many times to your child: Accountability is just a normal part of success. When Daddy goes to work, he has others hold him accountable while he’s on the job. This is because they want to see Daddy get better at his job. The same is true for all things in life.
4. Choose accountability over filtering.
Filtering is a great idea for younger kids, but many teens do not want to be blocked from going somewhere online they really want to go. Many Internet filters over-block and this can become tiresome. Plus, many teens will quickly find ways around filters. To many teens, filtering seems like a babyish tactic.
Say this to your teen (if you really mean it): “We chose not to block everywhere you want to go online. Filters are great, but they don’t prepare people to live in the real world. We think you can be responsible online. We still monitor everyone’s Internet in the house because we want to help each other to be responsible, but we wanted you to have the freedom to go where you want online.”
This is an empowering statement. It promotes trust. A statement like this doesn’t say: “Be careful because I’m watching you.” It says: “We know you understand our expectations about the Internet, but its normal to make mistakes or want to push the limits. We just want to catch small problems before they turn into big problems.
You may think some level of filtering mature content is still necessary because teens can also unintentionally access things like pornography. A good filter should have customizable settings to account for the age of your child.
5. Use current events to teach.
Nothing makes your concerns about the Internet real like a good story. Use current event stories about Internet-related dangers and temptations to spark good discussions.
Subscribe to our blog to get fresh updates and tips on this. For instance, our new series “Table Talk” is all about relating current events to relevant conversations with your kids.