NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — One of the hardest decisions for parents nowadays is deciding when to allow their children to have a phone and access to social media while also factoring in how much oversight is too much or too little.
News 2’s Hayley Wielgus took a closer look at why the ‘Goldilocks’ approach may be one of the best strategies.
“She did this entire slideshow to basically pitch why she deserved to have the B Real app, and I was really impressed,” said Jen Mayer Kulp, who is a Mt. Juliet mom and podcaster.
Kulp and her husband Adrian are navigating technology and social media use for their four children ages 4 to 13.
After her presentation, their daughter was granted access to the app.
Not all of their decisions have been that straightforward. Kulp spent years producing true crime shows and said the parents she interviewed always questioned, “What if I had done something differently?”
“It’s always echoed, like, what if I don’t give them access to technology, and that can save their life? What if I do give them access to technology, and they become a statistic? It’s a really scary thing,” she said.
Kulp uses filters and parental controls on her kids’ iPads, which are tailored to each child’s age, but she knows only so much is within a parent’s control.
Her son’s 5th grade classmates showed him an adult entertainment website on their phones in the bathroom at school.
“My child’s innocence was torn from him, Kulp said. “You beat yourself up for like, what could I have done to protect him a little more? The bad stuffs out there. They’re probably going to find it. It’s just a shame that they’re finding it a little bit earlier than we did when we were their age.”
When they do find the bad stuff, Kulp wants her children to feel safe in telling her.
“We do have a sort of policy with our kids that if they’re ever in a situation where they are uncomfortable, where they get that ick feeling, they come to us, and there will never be a consequence,” she said.
That’s the approach Dr. Pamela Wisniewski said parents should be taking, one of open communication and not covert monitoring.
“It’s kind of like sneaking into your kid’s room and reading their diary. If you’re a parent who cares about transparency and trust and accountability, you wouldn’t want an app that you kind of put in the background to hide what you’re doing. Because you want to have that trust relationship,” said Wisniewski.
Wisniewski is an associate professor at Vanderbilt who heads up the socio technical interaction research (STIR) lab. Her studies focus on adolescent online safety.
She and her team have developed privacy and security apps, including a parental control app called Circle of Trust. The app alerts parents of risky activity rather than showing the content of every message.
“When you first introduce technology to your child, that’s when you have maybe the parental controls like in the younger years, like their tween, teen, early teen years, and having consequences. And having expectations, even maybe doing a physical contract between the parent and teen of some of the ground rules,” she suggested.
Wisniewski’s studies show too much parental oversight can cause kids to sneak around and get burner phones. But, she said giving them a phone with no parameters is like handing over keys to a car without teaching them how to drive.
She recommends Kulp’s approach of finding a middle ground.
“I’ve always kind of lived my life in the gray, you know, it’s like neither extreme really works for me, for my family. So if we can sort of live in the gray and moderate what they see and and really kind of help them learn how to navigate it. Hopefully, it’ll be a life skill that follows them,” Kulp said.
Wisniewski’s STIR lab is often looking for participants for their studies. Click here to learn more.