Parenting in the Digital Age

Parenting in the Digital Age

(My column for this week on Gloucestershire Live)

The role of parent has never in the history of the planet been this complicated.

Perhaps our parents and grandparents might disagree with that statement. After all, the choices that we have available to us in this century are mind blowing. We are taught that we can achieve anything, go anywhere, be anyone if we just work hard enough and they will no doubt vividly remember times when their options on so many issues were severely limited and opportunity was much harder to come by.

Of course for many of us Mums and Dads the conundrums that we debate over a glass of wine with a friend of a Friday night really are #firstworldproblems. Little Charlie just started cow’s milk and has a funny tummy – well our local 24 hour Tesco offers soy, almond or goat’s milk but how to choose! Should we go on a staycation this year or throw caution to the wind and book a package holiday – fifty years ago the choice would have been a fine thing.

Yes we are spoiled rotten and yes the ease of life in many respects means we are parenting in easier times. However the now oh so readily available world wide web has been a complete game changer that in the humble opinion of CheltenhamMaman means being a responsible parent has never been harder.

Yes we are offered regular e-safety training sessions at school and thankfully the police are generally on board with educating our youth on the dangers of the virtual world. But since when did kids ever pay much attention to the warnings of their parents and teachers? You were young once right? It may be a while back but I still remember nodding at all the right moments in my sex education classes – didn’t stop me falling pregnant at the tender age of twenty though did it!

Of course we can (and should) take precautions to tie up our home internet by restricting the kinds of sites the devices used by our children can access. Word of warning – leave at least one device just for grown ups with no restrictions – I couldn’t access an online wine merchant on any of our devices for a while – a serious matter I’m sure you’ll agree.

Even if you do this, with 4G and wireless provided in most public places you simply can’t police the sites your children can access all the time. And then of course there’s social media – where to even begin?

For most of us sending our tween or teenage kids out to wander the streets isn’t the option that it used to be to our parents and grandparents. The risks of being bored in groups outside of the home for many of us just aren’t worth contemplating but as they mature of course they must be allowed some freedom and if properly managed social media is a fantastic resource for them to chat with their friends.

But how do you properly manage it? Sure you can ask them to hand their devices over to be checked but some posts on social media disappear after a short time and there is no evidence left for your to scrutinise. You can insist that their accounts are private and that they are only followed by people they actually know from their friendship circles – but do you actually know all of their friends by name? I don’t! Oh and issues like bullying are magnified online – it’s infinitely easier to say or do something hurtful online than it is face to face meaning vulnerable children become easier prey and those with a tendency to be unkind can be more vicious.

It’s no surprise that the very danger we are trying to protect them from is also the provider of the best support on how to protect them and a quick scan of the internet does offer up a wealth of support for us to make use of. The NSPCC have some great advice here. The BBC also have a helpful little step by step guide covering all the basic things you can be doing to keep your children safe – take a look here. I also really love this American forum and blogzine for parents from Common Sense media with loads of tips for boosting your child’s e-security – it even has an article on helping your teen cope with social media induced anxiety.

Some of you will be down with the kids when it comes to social media and some of you will wonder what language they are speaking when they talk about tweeting or hashtags. I also found a great parents guide to Snapchat and to Instagram at the Connecting Safely website.

It seems to me that the main issue with raising kids in the digital age is that we are tiptoeing on otherwise unchartered lands. We all know it takes a village to raise a tribe but none of our village elders have had to run this particular parenting gauntlet. So do your best and do your research. Take good, sensible precautions and if things go wrong for someone you know don’t judge but support. It could happen to any of us at the very simple press of a button.



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