Why Should Parents Monitor Their Children’s Phones?

teen girl looking at phone with boys in background

You know that it’s a good idea to set rules around device use, like screen time limits and making sure your child is watching age-appropriate content. But should parents monitor their children’s phones? This question is a hot debate in parenting circles. It’s likely one you’ve asked yourself. 

Forget for a moment about what your mom thread or the Reddit boards have to say. Instead, let’s dive into what the statistics say, what the research tells us, and what the experts recommend, so you can make an informed decision when it comes to your own child. 

What experts recommend

As more and more research emerges about the negative impacts of excessive phone use, experts now widely recommend supervising and limiting phone use for children. 

For kids over the age of six, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) recommends that parents limit screen-based activities for their children and instead encourage them to form healthy, offline habits. 

When it comes to explicit advice about monitoring, the American Psychological Association (APA) suggests that parents should monitor social media accounts for all kids under 15.

There aren’t strict recommendations about how much screen time kids should get each day, which makes regular monitoring even more important. Dr. Jenny Radesky, who researches how kids use media and technology, said in an interview with Today that parents should "focus on quality rather than the overall amount of time … The more important question is, what is the activity the child is doing?"

Phone use and children’s mental health 

It’s clear that experts believe parents should monitor their children’s phones. But why have so many of them taken that stance in recent years? 

For one thing, the data show a steep increase in anxiety, depression, self-harm, and suicide among adolescents in recent years, hitting Gen Z the hardest. Experts have proposed a connection between this alarming trend and the corresponding rise in smartphones and social media. 

Research further supports those claims. For example, studies have shown that increased social media use is a reliable predictor of worse sleep, poor body image, low self-esteem, and increased symptoms of depression among adolescents. The U.S. Surgeon General recently weighed in, warning that social media is contributing to the youth mental health crisis. 

And the impacts of phone use by adolescents extends beyond their childhood. This global study of over 27,000 young adults found a link between early phone use and worse mental health outcomes in adulthood. 

While this all might sound alarming, research also offers hope. An analysis of existing research, published in the International Journal of Behavioral Development, found that parental monitoring can lower depressive symptoms and lead to fewer risky behaviors. 

What should parents do?

Given the clear and compelling reasons parents should supervise their kids on their devices, let’s dive into how that can be accomplished. Here are specific actions you can take to keep your child safe and healthy on their phone:

  • Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. When it comes to safety, something is better than nothing. Start by taking stock of what you currently do to monitor your child’s phone (even if it’s nothing) and look at ways you can add to or refine your efforts. If you’re overwhelmed by it, start incrementally and build from there.
  • Be willing to adjust. Remember, the goal is not 100% perfection at all times. It’s about staying engaged with your child’s phone use and supporting them as they form their own healthy habits. Don’t be afraid to tweak your efforts as you see what’s working and what isn’t. 
  • Practice tech check-ins. A great way to monitor your child’s phone and help teach them good habits at the same time is to do regular tech check-ins. These are designated times when you sit with your child to look at their device together and discuss their online activity. 
  • Consider using a child safety app. BrightCanary uses AI technology to remotely monitor your child’s YouTube, Google, social media, and texts, alerting you if there’s an issue so you can follow up. 
  • Take advantage of parental control settings. Make sure you’re optimizing the parental controls both on your child’s device as well as on individual apps they use.  

In short

Experts recommend parents monitor their children’s phone use and those recommendations are born out by the research. Parents should take steps to keep their children safe and healthy on their phones, including regular check-ins and use of monitoring apps.  

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