The next time you go to plug in one of your electronics or one of your kids’ electronics, look at the plug. Have you ever wondered why an electrical plug has 3 prongs? And what are those 3 prongs are for? Is it important to have all 3?

One of the prongs is called the “neutral”, the other is called the “hot,” and the one on the bottom is called the “ground.” Bear with me now, but each of these prongs and the coordinated holes in the outlet has a purpose. For electricity to work it must have a closed circuit from the “hot” to the “neutral”. The “ground” protects a person from being shocked. When properly used, electricity flows safely from the wall to your devices.

When looking at how to keep your kids safe online, consider this same idea of a 3-pronged approach.

1. The “Hot” Prong – Monitoring

Your kids want to be on their devices all the time. They have figured out how to make an iPad, iPhone, gaming system or computer do things that you never thought possible. This has become a hot-button issue in your house. You wish they would just go outside and play sometimes. It is the majority of your confrontations at the dinner table.

Great news, there is monitoring software out there. We recommend a product called Circle with Disney. If you have T-Mobile, it is called FamilyMode.

These are both software for mobile devices and hardware for your home. They cover every device in your house and mobile devices that leave your house. They let you set time limits for how much you use the internet inside and outside the home.

You only want your child to spend an hour on YouTube a day? Done. You want to pause Instagram at the dinner table? Done. You want your child to stop playing Fortnite? Done. This software/hardware combo is a great solution.

The “Neutral” Prong – Alerts

Your kids want to connect to their friends and family. Relationships by themselves are neutral, so this is a good thing. You want your child to build great friendships, but what happens when they start using apps, websites, and other platforms, to connect to people outside of friends and family?

You don’t always know who your kids are communicating with and you wish there was a solution that could give you a heads-up when they are being bullied or have seen adult material that you really don’t want them to see. You don’t have time as a parent to go through every piece of communication your kids have with others.

To help in this area, I recommend a service called Bark. Bark is artificial intelligence that will only alert you when things are not right.

Your kid receives a message on Instagram that has adult material? Your child receives a text from a friend that is using language that you don’t like? Your child is searching for things online that are inappropriate or self harming? Bark tries to make sure that all of the content your child comes in contact with is neutral. This is why an alert system like Bark should be plugged into the hole for “neutral”.

The “Ground”  Prong – Relationship

This prong may be my favorite topic to talk about when it comes to parents, kids, and technology. This is truly the protection piece that will do more than any software, hardware, or even artificial intelligence. This hole is filled by the relationship you have with your child. That relationship is better than any parental control that you will find on mobile devices or gaming consoles.

If you do not have a firm foundation or “ground” with your child, then you will have electricity flowing with their technology, but true protection isn’t happening. How do you ground your relationship with your child? I believe it comes down to how you model your own use of technology and how you talk about technology. Sometimes as adults we need to get off of our devices as much as kids need to get off of theirs.

The other piece is how we are talking about technology. Don’t play dumb when it comes to tech. Sure, there may be a ton that you don’t understand and you are tired of trying to keep up. That said, be curious, cautious, and finally courageous:

Curious: Ask this question to your kid the next time you see them on a device, “Can you teach me how to do that?”

Cautious: Lean into your experience and relate with what your child may be going through. The reason they are using technology so much may be because they are escaping from something. Next time you see them escape for a long period of time with their device ask, “What was the most interesting thing you did or saw?” This gives you an opening into their life.

Courageous: Technology not only lets you consume a ton of information and entertainment, it allows you to create things that you never thought possible. Instead of seeing technology as something that is always consumed, inspire your kids to create amazing things with it. Ask your child, “If you could create anything in the world, what would you create?” If it is technology-based, let them do it. Changing the purpose of technology from consumption to creation will truly change how you talk about technology.

I hope you see that all 3 prongs are needed. You need something that helps you limit the time. You also need something that alerts you when things get off track. But, remember that your relationship with your child truly is the best protection that they will have for the rest of their life—no matter how much technology changes or what the next big app or game might be.