Controlling parental controls
Author: Richard Singleton

It’s an age-old battle: the epic struggle between teen and parent. Every teen believes that parents have too much control and almost every parent believes that their teen is out of control.

It’s amazing how much we forget when we get older.

I never remember being out of control and for the most part, I remember my parents being fairly level-headed. In fact, the rules, sanctions, ordinances, laws and constitutional mandates of their parenting seem rather mild to the visionary draconian measures that I have started cooking-up for my kiddos’ eventual arrival at “teendom.”

I mean, did my parents actually let me drive a car when I was 16? Did I really get to hang out with my friends without my parents being there at every waking moment? Did I actually start dating before I was 30?

I can’t believe they were so lax.

I can’t imagine letting my precious ones out of my sight much longer than an episode of Looney Tunes (the short ones) let alone for hours at a time with keys to an overly speedy car, access to a way too smart smartphone and enough cash and creativity to cause a small network news story in the space of just an evening out.

I know. I have to learn to let go. And, I will. Most of us parents do at some point. There are a few who tank up their helicopters and hover for a lifetime, but most of us learn to let go.

So, my hyperbolic, hyper-critical vision of the future will surely give way to something more attuned to the bell-curved umbrella that most of us live under. But, just because I don’t plan to be an anxious parental FBI agent, doesn’t mean that I don’t want to have at least a wise modicum of meaningful control in the life and lifestyle of my children.

I’ve written quite a bit about phones in this column and I turn to the subject again for a new angle on the discussion – one that, dare I say it, is about parental control. Really, it’s less about control and more about exercising a certain level of parental responsibility – an often vacant, but important issue.

None of us would dare imagine driving down the interstate with our children unbuckled; we used to. Or our parents did (shame on them again – just kidding mom), but that all changed. My wife’s mother was on the cutting edge of this issue. I still remember being in grade school, when she, as president of the PTA, came and educated us on the duties of seatbelt safety. I learned that lesson and it has served me well – I’ll let you read between the lines on what that means; I don’t want to incriminate my driving record in print.

There’s a real sense in which we need some electronic seatbelt provisions for our children’s phones. I’ll elaborate on just two of those and make a universal statement about how both of them have obvious limits.

Parental controls
Many mobile phone companies have learned that providing native parental controls for their phones is a win/win experience for their customers. If you have a cell phone plan, likely you have access to online controls, or customer service can walk you through controls of your child’s phone.

Perhaps the best example of this might be tied back to my seatbelt analogy. Some companies have creatively worked to allow parents to inhibit their child’s phone while they are driving. Texting and calls can be disabled to dissuade children from trying to text and drive at the same time. This might save more lives than even seatbelts have saved if used properly, since about 50% of teens admit to texting and driving. These are shocking stats that no parent dare ignore.

An app for that
In addition to what the mobile phone companies provide, there are increasing numbers of apps for phones that allow parents to make wise decisions about how to monitor their children’s phone content. One popular application is “My Mobile Watchdog”. For less than $10 per month, parents can have a smorgasbord of choices for how their children access the web, text, email and such on their phones.

Now, the word of caution: as parents, hopefully we are trying to raise increasingly mature, increasingly responsible kids. My mother-in-law doesn’t still have to remind me to buckle-up for safety (though, I won’t say that her daughter never does – you knew I had to go there). And, I don’t want to have such authoritarian control over my children’s use of their phones that I never allow them to learn to navigate the electronic superhighway in increasingly more responsible ways.

Rules without relationships lead to rebellion, and if we simply become phone control freaks, be assured that our kids will find ways around any electronic protection that we put in place. We want them to buckle-up, but we don’t want them to wear an electronic straitjacket. That’s not good for them, or us, ultimately.

Many of us have already lost touch with phone use, some of us are too rigid with it and others are scared to death of the approaching decision. Whatever the case, it’s never too early or too late to become a parent with a proper, healthy concept of control – one that is rooted in balance, love and an ongoing strengthening of relationships and a gradual level of fewer restrictions and more responsibilities.

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