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Parenting in a Digital Age: 5 Tips for Navigating the Digital World

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Digital technology today is here to stay. We’ve seen the ways it can enhance our quality of life. However,  we’ve also seen its dark side – from the evils of cyberbullying and online predators, to the dangers of screen addiction. While we cannot shield our kids from the inevitability of digitisation in society, these are some things we can do to help parent them wisely through this digital age:

1. Advocate media literacy.

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To enable our digital natives to safely navigate their ever-changing landscape, we must begin by helping them to better understand their world. As we first taught them to read and write, so too must we encourage the honing of their media literacy skills.

In an age of countless mixed messages from the media, it is our job as parents to teach our kids how to filter, evaluate and consume media responsibly. Begin by staying abreast of the latest technological developments. Be aware of the apps, websites and programmes that your child frequently uses. Understanding the content your kids are exposed to is key to helping them learn how to control it.

Always engage your kids in dialogue. When viewing a movie or a social media post together, for example, some questions you could raise to encourage your child to think critically could include:

  • Who created this and why do you think they did so?
  • What message is this trying to convey and to whom? Is this message positive or negative?
  • Do you think this message is credible or believable? Does it present a balanced or one-sided view?
  • Why do you think so? How did this message make you feel?
  • Do you think others might agree or disagree with you? Why do you think that?

2. Be a media mentor.

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Don’t just monitor your kids’ online usage –mentor them through it too. Be an active partner in your child’s digital life. Use digital opportunities to interact, play and co-learn with your child. Share a funny YouTube video with them, discover new music together or challenge them to a video game as you bond over a friendly battle. Who says screen time necessarily has to be alone time?
Make sure to regularly speak to your children about Internet safety. As our kids increase in age, so does their risk of exposure to digital predators and other online threats. It is vital to educate them from an early age about online safety and etiquette, and the importance of maintaining privacy.
With tweens and teens in particular, explain the consequences of inappropriate online behaviour. Outline the fact that shared content is never truly deletable. Our kids need to understand that the dissemination of sensitive content such as personal information, sexts, private photographs or inflammatory messages may jeopardise future job prospects. More crucially, they could also be exploited by sex offenders or cybercrime opportunists.
The UK’s National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) provides excellent advice on online safety and how to handle difficult conversations with your kids about inappropriate content they might encounter online.

3. Use the digital world to your advantage – but stop “sharenting“!

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From the rising trend of Tik Tok moms to dads employing social media as a creative form of punishment, we’ve seen a marked increase in parental engagement with the digital world. Yes, it’s a good way to have fun – but importantly, it’s also a key tool to help us brush up on our parenting skills.

Many parents have found a supportive community by making social connections with fellow parents online, or by accessing valuable expert information at the touch of a button. We love Internet Matters, which provides age-specific online safety advice guides and a list of available parental controls, as well as Common Sense Media for trusted reviews on appropriate apps and games for kids.

A word of caution to the digitally-savvy parent however. It’s understandable to want to share our lives (and our kids’ lives) on our social media accounts. But pause before ‘gramming that adorable shot of your streaking son and understand that your children have a right to their privacy too.

Remember to always respect your kids’ autonomy and lead by example. If you want your child to grasp the concept of not revealing too much personal information online or to cultivate a culture of respectful behaviour, think twice before “sharenting“. Seeking our kids’ permission before posting their photos online is a valuable way we can teach them to extend that same courtesy to others.

4. Start a conversation – and help your children discover their voice.

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Many kids today would proudly call themselves “woke“. But do they really understand the mantle of that self-proclaimed title? Indeed, one of our key responsibilities as digital parents is to use the social media age to open our kids’ eyes to greater issues of social justice and activism.

Encouragingly, a recent study by UK media regulator Ofcom revealed an increase in 2019 in children supporting organisations or social causes on social media. It also found that one out of 10 kids from the ages of 12 to 15 had signed a social media petition over the last year, dubbing this “The Greta Effect” (after young Swedish climate change activist, Greta Thunberg).

As parents, we can help by engaging our kids in important discussions. Educate them about prominent hashtag movements on Twitter (from #MeToo’s solidarity against sexual harassment to Greta’s clarion call against #ClimateChange). Introduce them to inspiring young individuals who are using social media to make a difference. Find out about what issues personally speak to your kids and get them moving in the right direction.

5. Unplug.

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Parents, don’t forget to strengthen your connection – and we’re not just talking about the kind that involves WiFi! Make time for your families by consciously engaging in real-world activities and offline interaction with them. Take your kids out to enjoy the beauty of the outdoors, involve them in exciting adventures and encourage them to develop hobbies and interests outside of their digital sphere. Doing so will help our kids to appreciate that the real world is equally, if not more, exciting than the online world they often inhabit.

Remember to be present with them in these moments as well. Help to model healthy habits for your kids by unplugging your own devices for a second and recharging the good old-fashioned way instead.

As a litigation lawyer turned full-time mum, Kimberly Lee finds that arguing court cases never seemed quite as difficult as arguing with an obstinate toddler over carrots. She writes about life, loss, love and everything in between as she explores her greatest adventure yet- motherhood.

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