There is no doubt that the Internet plays an important part in teenagers’ lives – and especially now, during the global pandemic, where many normal day-to-day activities for teens, such as schooling and catching up with friends, has quickly moved online.
As teens, and their parents, look to navigate the new normal of conducting even more activities online, do parents need to consider parental control features for their teens, or will teens consider this an invasion of privacy?
Kaspersky, along with Dr Tertia Harker, a Social Worker with a Doctorate in Psychology in private practice in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban, share some insights.
“The Internet allows teens to have fast and easy access to a vast range of opportunities today,” says Maher Yamout, senior security researcher at Kaspersky. “It can be a great platform for learning and sharing knowledge, taking part in social activities, and staying in touch with friends.
“One such example is the prevalent use of real-time photos and video sharing, with services such as Instagram and Snapchat being at the peak of popularity among younger generations. These services can fuel adolescents’ creativity and encourage them to develop their own videos and shareable content, which all plays a big part in teens leading a more active life, making it easier for them to find common ground with their peers.
“However, increased use of online apps and services can also bring challenges for some teens – as well as their parents.”
Spending more time online, but without limitations, could expose teens to potentially harmful content, as well as cyberbullying. Furthermore, less savvy, or vigilant users who are not used to so much online time could fall victim to an online scam, making them more vulnerable to someone accessing their accounts and data without consent or into disclosing private information unwittingly.
“To ensure adolescents can successfully manage their increased online time and also reap the benefits and advantages that the Internet can bring, it is only natural for parents to want to protect their children from becoming over-reliant on online services or being impacted by potential threats. And given that most teenagers are spending more time online than usual, during lockdown periods, parents may very well be considering the option of establishing technical or other restrictions on Internet usage.”
Putting such restrictions in place or monitoring their every move, however, could be seen by teens as an invasion of privacy or an attempt to control their lives. And if teens believe that their parents have violated their privacy, it could lead to more conflict at home and have a detrimental rather than a positive effect on their behaviour.
Dr Tertia Harker, a social worker with a doctorate in psychology in private practice in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban and who also works with internationally based clients, says; “Adolescence is a time when teenagers strive for autonomy from their parents. They explore their independence and develop a sense of self. And in doing this, teens often pull away from parents, towards their peer group.”
Dr Harker cites Erik Erikson (1902-1994) who proposed eight stages of psychosocial development that occur during an individual’s lifespan. According to Erikson’s psychosocial model of development, adolescents get confronted with the developmental task of identity versus role confusion. With proper encouragement and reinforcement, through personal exploration, a strong sense of self (an identity) and feelings of independence and control can develop.
According to Erikson, adolescents who are pressurised to conform and are not given the opportunity to develop an identity, could struggle with establishing a sense of self, remain unsure of their beliefs and desires, experience role confusion and struggle to find their place in society as adults.
“It is important for parents to understand and support their children during this phase of development,” Dr Harker says. “There is a possibility for children and teens to get exposed to undesirable content wherever they go and while it is of course critical for parents to protect their children as far as possible, self-exploration must be supported and encouraged by parents, but within boundaries.
“While adolescents may rebel against boundaries, it gives them the opportunity to develop and grow in a safe environment.”
So, what is the middle ground to keeping teens safe online, that ensures parents do not step over the boundaries of teen privacy or spoil their fun while growing up?
“Open discussions between parents and teenagers about how to best monitor their behaviour will ensure a common understanding is met and boundaries adhered to, while maintaining a sense of freedom,” says Yamout. “It seems a more conscious measure, and parents who focus on positive ways to engage with their children, are more likely to build trust in a relationship with their teen and improve parent-to-child communication.”
Dr Harker agrees: “Setting boundaries for children from their first exposure to technology makes it easier to enforce boundaries as children get older. Open communication with adolescents is very important when they explore the outer world and get confronted with undesirable content online.”
When trust is formed in this way, the installation of parental control measures can be more easily justified. If a parent notices that something is not right with their child, they might cross the agreed boundaries, on the condition that such scenarios have been discussed and accepted by the child. After parents have established the rules for using the Internet and explained the necessity of limited parental control, most teenagers will likely understand that if the application blocks the site they need to access then they can always ask a parent to add the site to the list of allowed sources if necessary.
“It is also important to keep in mind that teens learn more from what their parents do, rather than necessarily what they say. It is also therefore crucial to be a role model when it comes to communicating online and using the Internet responsibly,” adds Yamout.
Parents should lead by example. If they agree on what restrictive measures they are going to put in place with their teenager, they too must adhere to these established family rules. If parents tell children to turn off all of their devices, but they themselves are constantly behind a screen, any conversation or restrictive measures may look hypocritical and potentially be ineffective.
What’s more, to reduce possible tension between limiting Internet access and teenagers looking to asset their independence, when it comes to online behaviour, parents can also allow teens to self-monitor, which is a key component of self-regulation. If parents increase the amount of time they spend offline with their teenagers, they will be able to establish a high level of trust and be one of the first to know what may have happened to their child while using the Internet.
“For adolescents to effectively self-regulate their online usage and habits, self-observation can help them understand their motivations and actions. Parental control is just one way to prevent potential risks, but it is not a silver bullet. The best parental control is an active parent that openly communicates and is there to help with their children’s decision making,” concludes Yamout.