The challenges of parenting change over time. Today’s parents don’t have to spend time making sure their children aren’t trampled by woolly mammoths and that’s a good thing. Then again, cave parents didn’t have to worry about how strictly to monitor their kids’ Internet usage. It’s all a trade-off.
The constant among many parental challenges across time, though, has been balancing kids’ freedom with proper control and guidance. A new study suggests that’s as true today as it ever was. When it comes to keeping your kids safe online, neither more parenting, nor closer parenting is necessarily better parenting. As has always been the case offline, making certain online activities and content taboo can sometimes make those things more attractive to your children, not less.
No Shockers Here
Israel’s University of Haifa conducted research into parental control over their children’s online activities. Their study found that parents who attempt strict control to prevent teens from engaging in unsafe online activities like sharing personal information with strangers actually increase the likelihood that teens will do just that. That conclusion can’t be too surprising: it just means that yes, teenagers still rebel against their parents. They just do so in a different way than you did.
Researchers formed their conclusions based on study of 495 children 10-18 and their parents, and divided parental attempts at control into three categories. The first category of parents made no attempt to alter their child’s online behavior. Parents in the second category provided guidance on appropriate online behavior, and talked their child when they experienced a problem online. The third category of parents more actively supervised their child’s time online via software that prevented access to some sites, and recorded all sites the child visited.
Control Can Be Counterproductive
Neither of the first two groups of children produced any meaningful spikes in risky behavior. However, children from the third group tended to take more risks online. The greater the degree of attempted parental control, the greater the degree of rebellion the researchers observed.
The researchers found that in general, a lack of parental trust can lead to an increase in unsafe behavior. Parents tend to supervise girls’ online behavior more closely than that of boys, even though boys are more likely to practice unsafe online behaviors. Also, teens are more likely to practice those unsafe behaviors when their friends approve of those behaviors. None of these conclusions should come as a shock to parents, but at least now there’s scientific confirmation of what many parents have already witnessed.
Don’t Give Up
Saying “teens will be teens” may explain the problem, but it doesn’t mean that parents shouldn’t try to do anything about it. Some online risks are real, and kids who take these risks might take others in the real world. The takeaway from the study isn’t that parents can’t hope to protect their kids—it’s that parents need to be smarter about how they offer that protection. Undoubtedly, some kids do require more guidance and supervision than others and it’s up to each parent to find the right balance.
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