Last month we talked about the illusion of privacy on social media. I appreciate the many responses I received, and want to continue to build on the discussion by adding in the element of parental controls. With privacy online subjective at best, parental controls are one mechanism for parents to help young people learn to use social media, and behave online in a God-honoring fashion.

Oh — and summer is upon us. It seemed it would never arrive but it’s here! That means kids will be out of school and have more time to spend on their devices, doing what kids do on devices, which is playing games, and based on the research, spending huge amounts of time on social media.

Back in the Day

When I was a kid summer was all about summer vacations. My mom is a schoolteacher so we used our summers off to travel (and by travel, I mean road trip!). We road-tripped everywhere, and this was well before screens would fit in our hands. In those days, screens took up large amounts of real estate on our living room floors. For entertainment on long cross-country drives, my sister and I would listen to cassette tapes on a Sony Walkman. (Remember those? If not, you might want to Google it.) As long as our two AA batteries would last, we listened to whatever cassette tapes my parents gave us. That was a very early form of parental control. They knew what we were listening to and could control how much time we spent with our headphones on.

Then we upgraded — to a Discman! (Again, Google it.) Discmans provided a portable means with which to listen to the latest in technology of the early ’80s, compact discs. Cassette tapes were nice but you had the slowness of fast-forwarding and rewinding to get to what you wanted to hear. With CDs, we could skip tracks or chapters, instantly. Again, my parents controlled what we listened to as they controlled the media, or discs in this primitive form of parental controls. Listening time was again limited to the charge in our AA batteries.

There was also a form of parental controls with the early video games. Early on to play a video game you had to be transported to a place called the “mall” where they had a video game arcade store with video game consoles the size of the refrigerator in your kitchen at home today. You would put a quarter in these refrigerators, I mean video game consoles, and you could play a variety of games, but you had to physically get to the arcade.

Then we got games at home. Then Atari came out allowing for arcade games on your TV at home. These early gaming systems, like the Atari or the original Nintendo (calling all original Super Mario Brothers fans), required a cartridge that contained the game you wanted to play. You inserted the cartridge into the video game system to play the game. It was easy for parents to control the games their children played as they controlled the game cartridges. Without the cartridge, you had no game, making it easy for parents to control what games their kids played. You also were unable to save your progress with these games; making it similar to the “uphill both ways in the snow” we’ve all heard was part of the education system of days gone by.

Granted, an enterprising young person could sneak a cartridge into the house, but most of these consoles were hooked up to the TVs in the family room and the types of games available to play on these systems was very limited. Super Mario Brothers was amazing when compared to Space Invaders. In other words, there wasn’t much to sneak. Trust me. I was there.

Times Have Changed

How things have changed today. Technology has converged all of this into small, high definition screens in devices that fit in our pockets and contain access to every song on the planet and an endless supply of games, not to mention access to the Internet and social media. These devices have become an integral part of our lives and parental controls are no longer as simple as they used to be. There is no media to remove, the batteries rarely run out, and the content is constantly changing.

Parental controls require ongoing parental involvement. This is not a “set it and forget it” rotisserie. (Again, Google it.) Parental controls are like swimming in a pool. You don’t just let your kids play in the pool without any adult supervision, or even a lifeguard. While parental controls are a great tool, they require constant involvement and supervision. Playing on devices requires the same amount of adult supervision as playing in a pool. Parental controls are a great life preserver but they still require active parental involvement.

There is no doubt that screens do a great job of babysitting, parenting and occupying our kids’ time. It is easy to say go watch a movie or play a game and then enjoy the quietness of the moment. As we enter summertime and family vacation season, let me encourage you not to rely on your devices to entertain, or dare I say raise, your kids.

As we discussed in last month’s article, the privacy of your children’s data is at stake. Kids and teens don’t know what should be posted online and shouldn’t be, nor do they know what gaming companies are doing with the data they provide. Parental controls can’t solve data oversharing; only parents can, and should!

In the April 2018 issue, we talked about taking ownership over this and not blaming Apple because their technology is too good. Much like we shouldn’t blame Krispy Kreme for making donuts that we can’t stop eating or McDonald’s for making tasty French-fries. We have to be disciplined in our technology use like we have to be disciplined with what we eat. Asking for more parental controls is not the solution. Research indicates that parents are barely using the controls they have now; having more won’t make it any better. Having more will simply widen the knowledge gap between what the parental controls are capable of and what the parents actually know they can do, as most parents are not keeping up.

One way to help narrow the gap is to not overcomplicate family time, as we talked about in the March 2018 issue. Use family time to learn from your kids and to instill in them what it means to be godly online. Use family time to teach about online bullying, in-formation over-sharing, data privacy, and how God knows what you do both online and offline. (Watching a movie you aren’t supposed to watch online is the same sin as it would be watching it on TV.) Investing this time builds involvement in our kids’ lives and that involvement is critical to success with any form of parental controls.

It’s Worth the Effort!

Unless parents today start investing time and building involvement with their kids in how they use their devices and what content they consume, the knowledge gap talked about in the February 2018 issue will only grow larger, and the larger it gets, the more trouble our young people find to get into. Take time this summer to put the devices down. Some kids just need to be taught how to go out and play and imagine and create. Others may need to play a sport to learn how to work together on a team and get some much-needed exercise.

While it may be easier to just let our kids play on their devices, it is not better. Don’t let your kids play in the technology pool this summer without close supervision. Use the parental control tools at your disposal, but also invest time learning the new ones, watching what your kids do on their devices, and teaching your kids that God created a beautiful world beyond the technology we use to capture pictures of it. Teach them to spend time in it and to love the One who created it.

I know we’ve been talking about parenting in the traditional sense of a mom and dad, but I recognize that many young people today are not in traditional homes. As I’ve mentioned parents, that could mean grandparents, family friends, foster parents, other family members or really any authority figure that has influence over the lives of young people. While teachers and youth pastors and youth workers are not the parents of their students or youth groups, they still have an opportunity for influence so feel free to replace the word “parents” with whatever fits best in your situation as you impact the lives of young people around you for Christ.