Katharine Hill, UK Director, Care for the Family, writes:
The digital revolution of the past decade gives our children some huge advantages in life including speed of communication and access to information. Even pre-school and primary children are impacted by it.
Tablets and in-car screens have revolutionised long car journeys – those endless games of I-Spy are now a thing of the past. And as parents or carers we can breathe a sigh of relief at being able to sit a child in front of a screen for a while, perhaps to get on with cooking a meal or catch up on work emails. The opportunities for advancing our knowledge and connecting with others increase the older our children get, but, of course, as we know, in addition to bringing many advantages, our technological age brings unbelievable challenges.
We can find ourselves tearing our hair out as our three-year-old has a tantrum (aka an iPaddy) on being told his screen time is over or going crazy as we attempt to communicate with a teenager whose headphones are a fixed appendage to his head. However, as frustrating as these things are, there are much bigger concerns.
I remember speaking to a single mum at a Care for the Family parenting event. She had three young boys and had just received a letter from their school. A few older children had been accessing adult porn sites on their smart phones, and the school had written to tell parents what had gone on and how it was being dealt with. The letter had sent this mum into an acute state of anxiety. She felt completely overwhelmed by what lay ahead for her young boys and didn’t know how to begin to deal with this.
Many parents feel similarly overwhelmed, but it’s important that we realise that the Internet is not a tsunami that’s about to engulf us and our families while we stand helplessly looking on. We don’t need to be computer experts, and we certainly
don’t need to be ‘cool’ and au fait with every type of digital slang, before we can take control of our children’s exposure to the Internet. However, there are some things we
do need to know, and to help them use the Internet safely, there are principles we can implement right from the start.
Care for the Family has recently conducted a survey to find out parents’ major worries about their children and the digital world. Amongst other things their answers included access to pornography, sexting, cyber bullying, grooming, abuse, gambling, commercialisation of childhood and Internet addiction.
One of our aims this year in Care for the Family is to equip parents in this area and that’s why I have written Get Connected! – Parenting in a Digital Age. Reading that list of concerns might well make us want to run for cover, ban all screens for ever, and attempt to insulate our children in an Internet-free cocoon in Outer Mongolia. But even if that were possible, it would not be a good idea. Technology is here to stay and as parents rather than making our children’s world smaller by limiting their options, we need to embrace the good that technology has to offer whilst also protecting them from the very real dangers.
There are boundaries we can put in place – broadband filters, age restrictions on games, passwords, family Internet agreements, parental controls on smartphones, tablets and games consoles and much more – but these only go so far. We can put all the boundaries and rules possible in place at home (and we must put some in place – we are their
parents) but what about when they are away from home? The truth is that unless we equip our children to deal with managing the risks of the Internet themselves, then they are only as safe as the least protected child in school.
As parents our goal is to pass on wisdom in the context of relationship, so that our children can make good choices when we aren’t there at their shoulder. We need to teach them to learn to discern.
Katharine Hill, UK Director, Care for the Family
Katharine’s new book Get Connected! – Parenting in a Digital Age is available to purchase.