Staying Safe Online Together

A new article in NPR suggests that there aren’t enough apps out there to protect teens online and  also actively engages them to develop their own decisionmaking. Parents are understandably worried their children will be exposed to explicit contents or bullying that have often resulted in tragic stories in the news. However, researchers in computer science have pointed out that app developers assume that parents are the main users of mobile online safety without considering the possibility (and necessity) of teens being proactive about the websites they visit and the messages they send. Teenagers who are aware of this necessity have even designed their own apps to address the need for parents and teens to work together to stay safe.


The article reports that the “Holy Grail” of parenting teens, according to developmental psychology, is “striking a balance between parental supervision and teen autonomy.” The American Academy of Pediatrics also supports this view, and released an online tool to help family members create a game plan together for mobile and media usage. The idea behind this plan is not to necessarily limit the activity of teens online since the internet is also a good place to find supportive communities with people who share similar interests. Instead, the goal is to encourage parents and teens to be proactive instead of being caught off guard by a problem in the future.


According to a statistic cited in this NPR article, currently, “only 16 percent of parents use monitoring software on their teens' mobile phones,” Parents still usually use other methods of checking up on their kids, like “friending” them on social media or directly logging into their accounts. Apps that are being developed focus mostly on restriction, with relatively little emphasis on education like teaching teens about self-monitoring or impulse control.


This problem presents a big opportunity for parents and app developers alike. There are more constructive ways to keep track of a teen’s online activity than snooping or restricting their usage altogether. When parents work with their students instead of restraining them, parents are showing their children that they are proactive partners who are helping them stay safer online. Apps that also focuses on developing interfaces that reflect the parent-child partnership can have potential to bridge the gap parents often feel when it comes to their teens and technology. Through a renewed outlook on teens and technology, parents can also encourage their children to keep track of their own decision-making as well.