A new survey shows that 84% of parents worry about their child’s safety online, but on average, spend only 46 minutes talking to their kids about internet safety over the course of their childhood. If those numbers seem drastically different to you, you’re not alone. Parentology asked three different experts to weigh in on why parents aren’t talking to their kids about internet safety and how they can start the conversation.
Parents Want to be Seen as Friends, Not Enforcers
Dr. Fran Walfish, a Beverly Hills family and relationship psychotherapist, author of The Self-Aware Parent, and regular expert child psychologist on The Doctors, CBS TV and WE TV tells Parentology she thinks parents are spending such little time on the topic because they don’t want to alarm their kids or make them upset. “Today, parents are afraid to set boundaries with their kids because they’re heavily invested in their children “liking” them at all times,” Walfish explains.
Walfish adds that the rise in both parents working outside of the home full-time has complicated this dynamic, since family time is in such short supply. “Parents feel guilty about working and not being there, and they don’t want to fight when they are there.” Sadly, she says, as a result, parents have loosened the reins on their kids, especially those that are teenagers.
The Solution: Set boundaries. Walfish says it’s better to have an angry teen than to be an angry parent. “Never engage in negotiations, bargaining, or deal-making,” she says. “Anger is an acceptable feeling; give your kids permission (invite them) to express disagreements in a respectful way. When you give permission for natural feelings of anger your child feels seen, validated, understood, and accepted by you — flaws and all!”
Nobody Wants to Be a Nag
Dr. Sherrie Campbell is a nationally recognized expert in clinical psychology, inspirational speaker, and author of several books, including But It’s Your Family: Cutting Ties with Toxic Family Members (April 2019) and Success Equations: A Path to Living an Emotionally Wealthy Life.
Campbell tells Parentology she believes the problem parents have with talking with their children may be twofold: not only is it hard to begin to explain the complexities of internet safety, but kids find the conversation annoying in the first place.
The Solution: Monitor screen time and use parental controls. “Outside of that, if kids really want to research things online, or look at things online that are outside of those parental blocks, there are plenty of ways for them to do that.” She also recommends parents have conversations about it when it comes up in the news. Campbell advises presenting the conversation as merely that, instead of an accusation or inquisition.
Denial, Denial, Denial
Eran Katz, a Clinical Psychologist and parenting coach, tells Parentology that he thinks the reason parents aren’t having the conversations comes down to plain old anxiety. “As parents, we care about our children and we want them to be well and safe,” he says. “But when we think about internet safety, there are all those “demons” who come into our minds, such as pedophiles, sexting and scammers.”
The Solution: Make the conversation one that’s ongoing. “It won’t be a one-time knock-out conversation,” he says, adding that parents need to accept, and perhaps admit, that they don’t know everything. In the process of these conversations, Katz says parents may find their children actually know more than they do. “We should acknowledge that the internet has many awesome and beneficial things, but there are also things we should be careful about,” Katz points out. “I would give the example of swimming in the ocean or a lake: you can have loads of fun in the ocean, see amazing things and enjoy the sun. But you should be aware and know how to take care of yourself, avoiding currents and sunburns.”