In the “Arkangel” episode of the popular series Black Mirror, an overprotective mother decides to implant a chip in her daughter’s brain so she can use her tablet and an app to monitor everything her little girl sees and feels. This system, originally designed as a parental control app, allows the mom not only to see what her child sees, but also monitor her emotions and moods, and even “filter” images that could harm her, so the girl sees them as pixelated.
We don’t need to go to the extreme of implanting a chip, as happens in the series, to analyse just how far these activities can be considered monitoring and at what point they turn into an invasion of the child’s privacy, says Carey van Vlaanderen, CEO at ESET South Africa.
Right now, we already have apps for monitoring geolocation, apps for controlling what content children can see on the internet and on TV, apps giving access to the microphone, so parents can listen to the sounds taking place where they are, and even apps that record everything that happens on the screen through video capture.
While these tools may seem like a great solution to all the problems the parent of a digital native could have, one thing is certain: Not all parental control apps work the same or have the same features. This is why it is essential to analyse them and choose those which best fit your family’s values.
Not only that, but a lot of tools which at first glance seem very useful to parents can turn out to be invasive for their kids, and this ends up provoking a different reaction to what the parent expected. Instead of feeling protected and contained, the child may feel trapped and start to seek ways to escape these controls.
The key is not about which control you choose, but rather in the conversation around it, and in accompanying the child in the digital world, just as we do in the physical world. It is about teaching them, through dialog and with the support of digital tools, what the dangers and risks of the internet are. What their responsibilities are, what they should and shouldn’t do, and how they can protect themselves.
Parental control apps can be really useful with younger children, when they first start to use a computer or get their first cell phone. However, as they enter early adolescence, these controls will become increasingly difficult to introduce or keep using. This means the key is to start removing the controls and gradually passing the responsibilities on as they grow older and learn how to behave in the digital world.
The goal should be for the child to enter adolescence fully empowered, understanding what risks exist on the internet and how to protect themselves, above all feeling confident and calm in the knowledge they can talk to their parents if anything worries them or makes them feel uncomfortable. To achieve this, the dialog and accompaniment need to start long before the child reaches this age, right when they are first entering the digital world.
What is the best way to install a parental control app?
The key to making parental control a tool that is useful both to parents and to their children lies in it being a form of care and not a form of imposed control. Once you have chosen the app that best fits your family’s values, it is best to install it and configure it together with your child. Before doing so, you need to decide on the basic rules for your child’s digital consumption, as well as their responsibilities. Explain to them that the parental control app is a way for mom and dad to look after them in the digital world and that you are going to install it together.
Here are some of the core features which are very useful for parental control and which help protect children without invading their privacy:
App control: Age-based filters are applied to manage which apps the child can access and use.
Web access control: These block inappropriate websites according to the child’s age, both individually and by category.
Time limits for fun and games: These set a maximum number of hours during which the child can play on their device. They also manage the times of day when it is used, for example, blocking access to games and apps during school hours or at bedtime.
Geolocation: These allow you to check the device’s current location at any given moment.
Reports: The purpose of reports is to be informed about the child’s general behaviour on the internet, so you can decide when the time comes to remove the controls. They include metrics which inform you about how the child uses the device, such as how long they spend on certain apps, time periods, and so on.
Lastly, these reports also can be very useful for knowing which apps your child uses most, or which are their favourites. Knowing their tastes and interests is a good starting point for conversations about taking care while online.
Remember, your child might have a better understanding than you of how an app works or may be more adept at using the device in general, but you know more about what risks and dangers could be lying in wait for them. So, what could be better than using the technology together, and being able to enjoy it safely?