How do I punish my 12 year old for turning off the Internet restrictions?
I discovered that my 12 year old daughter has easily bypassed the net filters that I'd put in place to keep her safe on the Internet. There are loads and loads of very real dangers out there online and I'm worried about what is happening. My daughter is not allowed unmonitored access on the internet but it seems that my computing skills are far inferior to hers. Although she said she just turned off the parental controls once to watch a Youtube video, should I trust her? How can I make sure that she is completely safe? Could my daughter get past my security whenever she wants?
2 experts have answered
That's lots of questions! I'll pass on answering the punishment question as such and answer the others and see where that gets us.
Trust, absolutely you should trust her. If you don't trust her to make sensible decisions on the Internet, why not? She's at an age where she clearly knows what it is she wants to look at, so maybe trust and conversation about what's out there that's best avoided are the way forward.
Completely safe, in the absolute sense, is basically impossible, whether online or offline. Even if you are with someone every day, all day, for their entire lives you cannot protect them from everything. If the meteorite is going to hit [insert favoured life-threatening catastrophe here], it's going to hit and there's nothing you can do to stop it.
In terms of Internet safety, you're safest staying on the well-trodden path, and recognising those things and people trying to tempt you off. This requires education on how to recognise those things and on the risks of straying from the path. For younger children an online guidance system that filters out most of the Internet is a great way to go, with boundaries being relaxed as the child gets older and learns more about how they can keep themselves safe. But there comes an age when they need to walk the Internet on their own, and at that point trying to enforce content filters is probably as dangerous as it is helpful.
Can your daughter get past your security whenever she wants? That depends, but in general, yes. It's quite possible to set up an Internet connection that's filtered in a way that cannot be turned off, and even a filter that's essentially impossible to get around but even then the determined user can just use another way of getting to the Internet, and would be doing so without your knowledge.
Any connection that's trying to satisfy both adult and older child Internet usage as well as that of a younger child has inevitable designed-in weaknesses; all of the products provided free by the ISPs are more full of holes than a Swiss cheese, so I would not depend on them to protect your child. Active management is required to keep traditional filters working effectively, and that management has to be by someone with moral authority for and understanding of the child in question.
If you try and enforce boundaries that have a frequent negative impact on the child's experience they will find ways around and through them; with web filtering, like fences, you can try and discover these holes and keep plugging them. The risk then is eventually they find a way around that you're not aware of, and actively hide it from you, and in doing so end up on the dark web; and you really, really don't want them there.
So punish her? Not sure that's going to help you. Talk to her, keep the channels of communication open. In the long run that will keep her safer than anything else.
 In the interests of full disclosure I'm involved in making a filtering/guidance product that is that hard to defeat, but wouldn't recommend it for the typical 12 year old, it's intended for children at an earlier stage of development.
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I’d like to help you frame your questions in a different light. Rather than thinking about punishment, reframe the question to be one about choices and their natural consequences. But first some background:
Start by recognizing that safety isn’t something you can effectively “do” to a child over the age of 10; if they aren’t bought into being safer online they can, and likely will, get around any tools, surveillance, etc. that you put in place.
Stop calling tools that protect and enable your daughter to have a great online experience as “parental controls”. No kid or teen wants to be controlled, and the very phrase creates an unnecessary antagonism from the start. Instead, call them what they are, safety, security and privacy tools and realize that every member of the family benefits from appropriate tools. For example, I use security software, pop-up blockers, browser tools that show me whether websites are malicious or spam-y, and my limit the types of content displayed to me by search engines as I do not want to see X-rated suggestions. I also limit who can see my information and who can contact me.
With this perspective on safety security and privacy tools you will be able to have a more meaningful and relevant conversation. Think about how you apply this offline: I’ll bet you don’t fight over whether your daughter’s going to look both ways when crossing a street. That’s because she recognizes the benefits of doing so, and the potentially life threatening consequences of not doing so. Similarly, no kid or teen wants to be scammed, bullied, ripped off, disrespected, or ‘creeped’ any more than you do and they are more than willing to take appropriate safety, security and privacy steps to protect themselves from these outcomes if they know how.
On top of their own safety, privacy and security concerns, kids and teens really don’t want their online actions to inadvertently place their family or friends at risk of any harm. If they understand the potential risks and know how to minimize these, they will take appropriate safety, security and privacy steps to protect those they care about.
Once you frame your views to recognize that kids and teens naturally desire (most of the time) to have positive experiences and protect their loved ones, you can now use this common understanding – not “parental control” - as your starting point in a discussion about online safety, privacy and security.
Next, be thoughtful about the protections you put in place for your daughter. There is no one size fits all in terms of safety, privacy or security. Instead, you have a set of family values and a risk tolerance – or intolerance – level. Your daughter also has her own values and risk tolerance level. Hopefully you sat down together in the past and worked through what safety, privacy and security measures would be appropriate for your daughter at this age – keeping in mind that this is an age of great transition so that the choices you worked through even 6 months ago may need reviewing and updating.
Trust isn’t given, it’s earned. If you negotiated the internet safety, privacy and security conditions together (some things may be non-negotiable, but they should at least be well understood), and your daughter agreed to adhere to the agreement, your discussion should be about trust and transparency. Just as she trusts that you won’t change the protection level she has, without discussing it with her, or implement spying tools to track her every online move, you need to be able to trust that she will adhere to the safety, privacy and security protections in place until you both agree to any changes.
With my own children and teens, when they broke a trust agreement with me it was their job to figure out how to fix it and re-earn my trust. I didn’t take the ‘blame’ for their actions, (“my mom took away my …fill in the blank…) they had to own up and fix their behavior (I screwed up and now need to take a step back and rebuild my mom’s trust). This is critical because if ‘mom’ punishes kids and teens may or may not buy into the punishment. When they create their own consequences, there’s no one else for them to blame and they know what needs to be done to restore trust.
Obviously, their consequences have to be ones the parent feels is appropriate and relevant. For example, saying ‘I’ll wash the dishes every night for a week isn’t relevant to rebuilding trust for a risky online action. The consequence needs to relate directly to the risky behavior. Interestingly, kids and teens often propose really draconian ‘punishments’ for themselves that parents have to help them soften.
If your child or teen struggles to come up with appropriate consequences you can suggest some – in this case if unmonitored online use is too difficult for her to manage responsibly, perhaps she stops using the tool that led to the trouble for a while until she shows she can be responsible and re-earns your trust. Or she does some research and comes back to you with an explanation that shows she has a better understanding of the potential risk she exposed herself to – or whatever makes sense in your situation.
The other question for you and your daughter is why didn’t she just ask you to help her watch the one video? Did she feel she couldn’t approach you? Did she know the answer would be ‘no’? What made watching this particular video be worth breaking your trust? Kids and teens are impulsive, she may have wanted to watch it right in that moment, but unless the video was way outside the bounds of appropriate, why didn’t she call, text, or find you to ask if she could disable the tools in place to safeguard her in this one instance? The answer to these questions may give you far more insight into your relationship, the appropriateness of the safety, security and privacy protections currently in place, and whether you have a deeper set of concerns.