Really understanding a child’s digital world is often a concept that is overlooked in the digital parenting world. Whether we refer to them as “digital natives” or “Generation Z” or “Gen Z”, they communicate and exist in a digital environment that most parents are not familiar with and do not understand.
There is no denying that children literally have the world at their fingertips. Their opportunities to learn, collaborate, play, communicate, consume content and create their own is almost difficult to conceive. Sadly, embedded in this on-line world is risk and harmful predators and content.
It is much easier for parents to support their children by securing their on-line space, the way they do in the real world, if they really understand their digital lives. An example of this is how important it is for children to “be connected”. Like it or not children thrive on endorsing/liking and sharing each other’s content. Our own in-house 14 year old advice guru at the SafeToNet Foundation tells us:
“if we are not on-line we do not exist!”.
It’s a powerful statement. It is therefore important for parents to understand the implications of limiting the device, confiscating it, or using blunt parental controls that simply switch off apps and lock the device. The impact of these restrictions/punishments may be much greater than the objective that the parent had set out to achieve.
The answer to this question is to ask children to teach parents about their on-line world. Parents shouldn’t spy or pry but instead start an open dialogue. Children might enjoy this role change. Parents should tell their children that they don’t want to switch their phones off, or see their content, they simply want to understand how they use their device…what’s fun, what’s work, what’s socialising and so on. Given their experience e.g. at school and with younger children where do they see risks? With this really positive approach, parents will get a better understanding of their child’s digital device. Diving straight into a topic such as sexting may make their child clam up.
These can be multiple conversations over time and will be productive if you can show that parents are looking to trust and enable their children as a result of this dialogue.