Special Post: Honest Feedback from the Oldest Child
I asked our oldest child, now in college, to reflect on the screen rules we imposed when they were growing up in our home. The answers below are brutally honest, and therefore of great value to me. I am grateful they took the time to answer these questions honestly and thoughtfully. We no longer use parental control software for our other children, except on gaming platforms with online stores.
Here it goes...
1. What did you think of our 'no screens in the bedroom' rule? What about as you got older?
Since this had been a rule for me since childhood, it didn't bother me much. The only times it did bother me were when my friends would talk about how they are spending time together outside of school over the internet, playing games or just chatting. This was the only reason why I ever missed having my phone or laptop in my bedroom, as I didn't really want to talk to them in the living room where I didn't have privacy. As I got older, though, and in the year just before I moved out, it started to bother me more, as I was becoming more independent. But even then, what bothered me wasn't so much the fact that I couldn't have my phone in the bedroom; it was more that I felt it was unfair for my parents still to be forbidding such simple things when I was 17/18. I felt like they were treating me the same way they treated my younger siblings.
2. Looking back on growing up as a teenager with screens, which rules worked and were good? Can you explain why?
Looking back, not being allowed to have my phone in the bedroom at night was a good rule for me. At times during my teenage years I already had trouble sleeping and I'm sure that having my phone there would have made things much more difficult. On a more general note, it's also healthier not to look at screens before going to sleep.
3. Which rules didn't work for you? Why?
I think the intention behind most of the rules was good, but in general a lot of them didn't work for me. First of all, from the time when I was 12-17, I had an Apple laptop with parental controls features enabled. When I was 16 these were disabled. Apple laptops have very strong parental controls features. The parental controls prevented me from installing any software on my own, and it also logged me out at 20.30 PM. When I was, say, 13-15, this wasn't so much of an issue for me. However, from 15 onwards, this quickly became a problem. The parental controls features also let my parents see everything I had done on my laptop and all of my search history. All these rules, as well as the fact that I had to sit in the living room with my screen facing the middle of the room (so that it was visible to anyone walking by) created a feeling of distrust. It frustrated me that I was being monitored so closely. In all honesty, these rules and regulations did more harm than good. It didn't feel like it taught me about online safety or using screens in a healthy way; it just felt controlling.
4. What are your thoughts about online safety and digital privacy?
Honestly, I've only recently been starting to think about it. I am aware of all the data stored about me by Google, Meta, and other tech companies, but I don't know exactly what data they have. I have the feeling that I haven't looked into it much out of fear, because I already know I'll be shocked that these companies can store so much information about me. My (long-distance) partner and I recently made the switch to Signal1 as our app of communication instead of WhatsApp. This switch was made due to privacy concerns. I also stopped using LastPass and started using Bitwarden2 as my password manager. I switched from Chrome to Firefox (using DuckDuckGo) years ago, also partly due to privacy concerns. Other than this, I haven't done much. I still have my Google account as my main email account and I use the Google suite on a daily basis as well.
5. If you were asked to advise parents of teenagers today about rules for screens, what would you tell them?
Before you set any rules, talk to your kids openly about online safety, what to look out for when downloading stuff online, how to tell when a website looks sketchy, to not reply to strangers, not click on ads, .... just the basics. After that talk about your concerns with your kids and their screen usage, if you have any. The best way to do this is with an open mind to avoid an argument. Let your kids say their piece, ask them questions and listen to them. The most important factor to a successful relationship between you, your kids, and their screens is trust and understanding. Do not put parental controls on their laptop unless you have real, pressing concerns about their online safety (but if you have those concerns, just putting parental controls on and not talking about it won't solve the problem either). Work out the rules you will set about where screens can be used and when together with your kids, and let them know that if its not working, they should feel comfortable coming to you and talking about reworking them. Lastly, adjust the rules as your kids get older and eventually remove as many of them as possible altogether.
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Signal is a privacy-focused messaging app.↩
Bitwarden is an open source password manager.↩