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What The Research Actually Said About Parental Monitoring



Very recently, there was an article published online on Gizmodo: https://gizmodo.com/teen-monitoring-apps-dont-work-and-just-make-teens-hate-1824706829 The clickbait title of this article is Teen Monitoring Apps Don’t Work and Just Make Teens Hate Their Parents, Study Finds.

This unpublished research was conducted at the University of Central Florida, in part by Dr. Pamela Wisniewski: http://www.pamspam.com, and will be presented at a conference in Canada in late April. Dr. Wisniewski took part in the Gizmodo interview about their research.

We have not read the actual research article, given it has not been made public, but some news organizations and others are taking inference from the research abstract and interviews with researchers. We need to be careful when reading only parts of research (and online news articles) as often there is much more to the story!

Many of those who are anti-parental monitoring app supporters are trumpeting the Gizmodo article stating,

“See, we told you so! This type of digital parental overwatch doesn’t work, and only makes your kids hate you.”

These supporters are using this report as academic, evidence-based research to support their claims. It is clear however, that Dr. Wisniewski is not in full agreement with these claims. In fact, what Dr. Wisniewski states to Gizmodo is that parental monitoring software and apps used in isolation don’t work, and this is something that I completely agree with. This was quoted by Gizmodo at the very end:

“If they use the apps as a tool to supplement positive parenting practices, not to take the place of them, then these apps could be beneficial,” she said. “However, they should not be used as a ‘set it and forget it’ solution because they are imperfect and cannot replace talking with our children and teaching them how to engage with others online meaningfully and safely.”

It’s our belief that parental monitoring software and apps should only be used in combination with parental communication and participation. I also believe this holistic approach is much more important for tweens and young teens as they start their online journey. Once the tween or teen shows good digital citizenship over an extended period of time, then remove the parental monitoring/filtering software because your child has earned this right in my opinion, but parental communication and participation should always be an ongoing process.

We also believe that parents should not be installing any kind of filtering/monitoring software covertly onto their child’s device. It’s never about spying. It’s about safe monitoring. So, if you are deciding to install such monitoring hardware/software, then be very open and honest with your child that you are doing so, and also let them know that they can earn the right to have it removed if they can demonstrate good digital citizenship over an extended period of time.

I believe that when it comes to parenting in the digital world there are three important pillars:

  1. Ongoing parental communication with kids about what they are doing online

  2. Ongoing parental participation with kids about what they are doing online

  3. Parental monitoring and filtering of what kids are doing online

Yes, parental monitoring/filtering software doesn’t work in isolation, and it can cause friction between you and your child. We also think it is important to know that all parental monitoring systems/apps have their weaknesses; they really don’t capture everything. Having said this, however, and like Dr. Wisniewski states, when combined with parental communication and participation, it can be a very powerful, holistic approach in your child’s development of digital literacy.

Some of the monitoring/filtering that we recommend:

Home Wifi access no matter the device: https://kidswifi.com

iPhone, iPad and iPods: https://netsanity.net

Android devices: https://useboomerang.com

Both Apple iDevices and Androids: https://www.bark.us

Digital Food for Thought

The White Hatter Team


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