Being protective of your child is a natural instinct—and the mark of a good parent, for sure. But after the term “helicopter parent” was coined in the 1990s, it wasn’t long before people began questioning whether too much protection was a bad thing.
Now, roughly 30 years later, mounting evidence supports the belief that helicopter parenting does more harm than good, contributing to high anxiety levels and an inability to make decisions. It’s now widely said that the stifling of independent thought and actions can have lasting consequences.
And thanks to technology, helicopter parenting has reached new heights. Potential dangers lurk around every corner of the web, leaving parents stuck between a rock and a hard place. Do they protect their kids or let them make independent decisions and learn from their mistakes? In reality, the answer is a combination of the two.
Today’s parents—helicopter or otherwise—need to remember that monitoring every second of their kids’ screen time isn’t possible. They’re better off spending their time and energy teaching their kids safe and healthy online habits.
Letting Go without Giving Up
As a parent, my No. 1 job is to teach my kids how to make smart decisions, particularly when I’m unavailable to guide them. It’s why my wife and I have active discussions with our 8-year-old daughter about everything related to technology. Recently, we talked about the “Momo challenge,” which ended up being an important lesson in online hoaxes.
Even as I try to give her some freedom, however, I recognize that many platforms are not meant for children. Take YouTube, for example. One study found that if a toddler is watching kid-friendly content on the platform, he or she has a 45 percent chance of encountering inappropriate content by watching recommended videos (and that’s within just 10 clicks). We put tight restrictions on the channels our daughter is allowed to watch, knowing full well we can’t prevent every bad scenario from happening.
The reality is that technology is here to stay and kids will remain curious—just as we were at their age. We shouldn’t punish them for wanting to be part of the digital world. We just have to know where to set boundaries and how to teach our kids to be safe online.
We also need to encourage our kids to come to us about any suspicious content they encounter by earning their confidence through open lines of communication. This can help sharpen our kids’ judgement and set them up to make good decisions in the future.
Here’s how you can help you protect your kids online, without micromanaging their tech activity.
1. Keep an eye on app downloads.
Did you know you can set any device to require approval before an app can be downloaded? This feature enables you to control the games and platforms your child accesses and gives you the opportunity to learn about what’s new on the market. To add another buffer of control, keep your password to the App Store or Google Play Store a secret. Parents need to play the role of the benevolent-but-savvy gatekeeper.
2. Give children freedom—within boundaries.
Your kids would love to be handed a phone and set free to do whatever they please, but you know better than that. After approving the download of an app or program, take the time to learn about and activate its safety features.
Plenty of preventive measures are built into popular platforms and parents can use them to their advantage. Don’t be afraid to periodically ask to see the history of the sites or videos your child viewed, either. If you do see something suspicious, ask your child for more information. Being comfortable flagging concerns should go both ways.
3. Request a device tour.
Kids love to share what they know, so have them show you what they’re doing on their devices. What apps do they love? What are their favorite channels? Are they interacting with anyone on the platforms that allow friends to communicate?
Use your time together to get educated—and reiterate that you need to be told if strangers try to connect with them online. Be positive and upbeat: you’ll probably learn some things you never knew about technology and your kids’ evolving personalities.
4. Say “no” without remorse.
Some platforms were never meant for kids, especially those with social features that promote constant social validation. These include Snapchat and Instagram, which kids as young as 7 or 8 are joining after lying about their ages during the sign-up process. In fact, the Federal Trade Commission just fined TikTok because the app was knowingly marketing to kids. Telling your children they can’t create profiles on popular platforms that have been deemed dangerous is smart parenting, not overprotectiveness.
It’s natural to want to keep your children safe. But if we’ve learned anything from the helicopter parenting trend, it’s that too much hovering does little to prepare kids for what lies ahead. Instead, engage with your young ones in proactive, positive conversations—then give them room to grow and learn.