Parents are naturally concerned for their children, not just that they eat and sleep enough, but that they are safe from anything harmful. So when it involves technology, a parent needs to be available to supervise and guide their children, as well as exemplify responsible behavior. Yet all of us need the help of others to live virtuously.

At first, this will mean being engaged directly with the technology the child uses, seeing and hearing what the child does so as to process it together. The parent will as questions to see how the technology is impacting the child. If the parent needs to multitask—preparing a meal or engaged in his/her own device—it is important to be nearby and observant, ready to respond to unhealthy or dangerous material. Greater vigilance is needed the younger the child.

Families and friends ought to have an open discussion about the purpose of technology (Internet Virtue–1), as well as where and how much to use electronics (Internet Virtue–3). It is easier for another (child or adult) to report seeing something bad if we share our own negative experience and how it impacted us, our relationships, how it might be trying to sell something or get us addicted, etc. It is always best to personally communicate and review the use of devices and apps. Sometimes parents create a parallel account to observe a young person on a particular app or web service.

Parents add safety protection software and use “parental controls” to help protect their children: even adults find accountability software helpful. Limit the use of “location services” to the minimum necessary and monitor the privacy settings the child uses on apps and web sites.

It is good for parents to work or read alongside their children as they do their schoolwork or use electronics. This teaches children how adults concentrate in their work, while giving you an opportunity to keep an eye on them.

Should mom or dad observe inappropriate material or behavior—indecent photos, videos, harassing or bullying, or revealing private information—one must keep calm; communicate that you, as a trusted adult, are always available for him to come to you if he should feel uncomfortable, even if you are doing something important. Then use this as a teaching moment. Finally, determine what other action needs to be taken to prevent this from escalating or happening again, which may include reporting abuse in the app, calling the parent of another child, school administrator, etc.

Freedom and Detachment

Know the signs of slavery to technology and electronics: if you or a child has a meltdown or feels separation anxiety, or you feel pressure or anxiety arising from social media—comparing yourself or your body to others—then it is a sign you need a change. Start with a day free of electronics and make it a special day, perhaps for hiking or excursions to the museum, zoo, etc. At night, try a card game or board game or reading a book. Learn that there is life independent of our devices.

A young woman Leigh shared her trick in a Wall Street Journal interview: “At my boarding school, when we’d go out to eat, we’d put our phones in the middle of the table and whoever grabbed theirs first had to pay for dinner. Ultimately someone would cave. But it made dinner so much better and more fulfilling.”

Learn the addictive features of the app or web service, and find the ways to keep your freedom and sanity. Many people turn off Like count, as this manipulates you into portraying yourself to please others instead of just being yourself. One teen found that wearing a tight dress in a post got more likes… and created greater body-image concerns in her psyche. We shouldn’t have to worry about how many likes we got.

You can control what you see on your feed, removing certain terms from the search history or unfollowing accounts that have a negative or addictive impact on you. For example, unfollow celebrities and focus on just people you know and with whom want to keep contact. Keeping your account private also helps, and don’t “friend” just anyone, but focus on true friends. Also, some avoid the Explore feed which has enticed some to go down pathways they couldn’t get out. Instagram is developing new tools, such as Hidden Words, Limits, and parental controls that can help prevent bullying, harassment, and offensive or abusive comments… not uncommon on the platform.

Setting time-limits on Screen Time can help—one girl found she needed to limit an app like Instagram to 30 minutes to keep mentally healthy and productive. Some find under-posting (posting less) beneficial, saving more moments as special, private, and personal—between me and my true friend(s), especially Jesus Christ.

Engage people more personally. If you see a post from a friend that moved you, try calling, texting, or even emailing them. It can buildup a relationship much more than clicking the Like button.

Fr. John Waiss