I only have one friend who actually uses parental controls on the computer, television and X-box (but I promise you, I do have a lot of friends). She's a single mom, originally from Ireland, with two boys ages 8 and 10 and a demanding job. Since I feel a little guilty for never using parental controls, I got up the nerve to ask her why and how she uses them.
Her answer reflected a common concern: predators. In her words, "I suppose most parents rely on themselves being the control but the web is way too vast and the predators are many steps ahead. I wish they'd realise that these people aren't hanging outside on the playground as much as pretending to be 13 on kids' sites! Anyway - I am the strictest, cruelest Mom in the Universe!"
I can assure you, she is not, and her kids really don't think so either. And although her main goal was to keep predators out and to monitor bad Web sites and violent video games and tv shows, the parental control on the X-box helped in another unpredictable way: with bullying.
"Conor told me about a nasty IM on X-box from a friend (he thinks I view everything later and would see it) and I explained the nastiness of kids when they can hide behind anonymity but also of friends when they're not there in person. Again, it's tough. As with any bullying done by friends, you nearly have to wait until your own kid opens up to you."
According to a 2004 iSafe survey, 58% of kids do not tell their parents when they've been bullied online. Experts believe this number has only increased.
The moral of this story is that any way you can build in a system that encourages your children to talk to you about uncomfortable subjects so that you can react appropriately -- and then help -- sounds like a plan to me.