Monday, 31 July 2017

Parenting a Digital Native - How Hard Can it Be?



I know it's often said that parents nowadays are living in an totally different world to their own parents or grandparents but I really feel it is true. As a child of the 70’s and 80’s there wasn't any such thing as the internet or email, I played with my dolls, drew and coloured and made believe in the street with my neighbours. Now my children meet their friends in virtual chat rooms on discord and challenge each other to jump subway trains (on a screen of course).

It really is interesting parenting in this evolving time and I am thankful that I work as a blogger and as such am very savvy when it comes to tech generally and more specifically social media, but you can't become complacent as that is when something falls under the radar.

I started my first blog back in 2008 and as such opened social media accounts right at the start of their growth. This means that when my eldest child wanted to get online and join various platforms that I was knowledgeable and able to work with him to ensure that the right safe guards were in place.

Don't think it has all been plain sailing though, there have been times when we’ve had to have some serious chats with my son about sites he has visited or things he has said but we've only been able to do that as he has known from the start we would have his passwords and access to any gadgets he has. Then impromptu visits and a glance through his history and such have meant we feel sure he is playing safe.

The book also has some really fun graphics like this throughout it

I've done a lot of reading up in the areas of children and the digital age and also attended seminars and written on the subject. I'm never going to claim I'm an expert as what is available changes far too quickly for me to say that but I do feel confident that I am a digital native and as such can be my children's educator and to some extent protector.

Back in April this year I attended the large Christian conference Spring Harvest and I went to the parenting sessions held by Care for the Family. I've been to many sessions run by Rob Parsons and Katharine Hill before and I've always enjoyed them. Their advice and tales of parenting situations are always well thought through and relate-able. It is for this reason that I was looking forward to the new book ‘Left to their own devices? Confident parenting in a world of screens’ released by Katharine Hill in May this year.

I received the book at the end of May and I've just finished it. In truth I didn't get through it as fast as I do some books but that was probably because this is a subject matter that I am particularly knowledgeable with and I don't think the book is aimed at someone like me who already has a teenager, strong boundaries in place and a day-to-day working knowledge of the net and social media.

In the book Katharine talks about digital natives and digital visitors. The former are generally those who have grown up with the internet being a part of their day-to-day life and they live in the online; it is as much a part of their ‘real’ world as the friends they meet face-to-face every day at school. Then the digital visitors are more likely to be older people like me, the parents who just dip in and out of the virtual. I think due to the nature of my work I am a native and as such can understand and relate in a different way to some other parents.

I think the book is an amazing read for any parent (or child/youth worker) who would consider themselves a digital visitor and it will give a real insight to why their children wish to be online 24/7. It will help them understand their children more, give them ideas for boundary setting and coach them through some of the tough conversations that must be had.



There are some real gems of knowledge in the book and I found myself happily underlining many passages. Let me share a few of the parts that really resonated with me -

*  Parenting isn't about raising children or teens, it is about raising adults. By taking a default position of seriously limiting screen time we make their world a smaller place and in doing so we limit them. Never a good thing, I'm sure you'll agree?

*   ‘Rules without relationship lead to rebellion’. I love this quote and I've written about it before; It is so wise. We must work on the day-to-day with our kids, all those little interactions and conversations build up the trust and relationship where when we say a firm no to something our children understand that they might not like it but it is for the best.

*   ‘We do our children a disservice if we try and be their best friend’. Another amazing quote from the book, it can be a bitter pill to swallow but again it is so true. It is our job to nurture and protect our kids not to let them fit in with their class mates or to be the most popular kid in school. Katharine also writes ‘No one knows your child like you; nobody loves them like you’. Have you ever thought about that? I hadn't but it is the very essence of being their parent. Yes one day I may hear the words ‘I hate you mum’ shouted at me but that's OK, it means they care enough to get mad at me.

*   Kids need time to get bored. The issue with the digital age is that it is switched on 24/7 but this doesn't mean your child has to be. Psychologists show that we all need down time and it is good to get a little bored and have time to allow your mind to wander, to daydream. 24/7 activity of any type can be counterproductive. Kathrine talks about us, the parents being the pace setters in our own home and this really worried me. I am quite a manic sort and I love to be busy but I know it's not good. So remembering my own advice that children learn what they live and not just what they're told, I need to slow down a bit and in doing so allow my kids to follow my natural lead.

*   The Office of National Statistics (1) reports that one in ten young people have a mental health problem and a new government survey (2) shows that there is a 10% increase since 2005 in the number of girls aged 14-15 with anxiety or depression. What sad statistics these are and whilst there is no solid research as yet that proves social media as a cause of these results it is widely believed to be a contributing factor and we've all read stories of teenage suicide due to online bullying or poor body image. With two young daughters of 10 years I'm really trying to cement the foundations now of who they are in God. Beloved and talented daughters, acceptable for who they are and not what they look like but it is so much harder than it sounds.



*   There is a good chapter on pornography and I think it is really telling when Katharine describes a situation where a Mum is chatting in the car with her teen and she has been working herself up to ask him about pornography and when he first saw it. Then the teen replies in such a nonchalant manner as if it was a non-event and the realisation dawns that pornography online has been normalised in today's culture. Growing up when the boys looked at Playboy or such behind the garages I knew it was naughty, nowadays my kids see half-naked men and women in every pop video or on the magazine shelf and I don't mean the top shelf (if there even is such a thing anymore’.

*  All parents have to realise that we cannot protect our children from everything, they will see things, they will go place and their friends may encourage them to take part in activities we frown upon. What we can do is keep talking to our kids. Have those difficult conversations, make them normal. Allow your child to know they can come to you about anything and there is no judgement, just help and love available. Discernment is one of the most valuable skills we will ever help them to develop.

There is so much more I could share but I think we've probably come to the end of your concentration span for a blog and also you could just go and buy the book. It is available on Amazon for £6.42 and I don't think you'd regret buying it. It would also be a great gift for a friend or family member with young children who could do with educating in this area.

Why not pin this post for later?


Sources:
(1) The Office of National Statistics, 'Mental health of children and young people in Great Britain, 2004'
(2)  The Office of National Statistics, 'Measuring National Well-being; Insights into children's mental health and well-being, 2015'

Disclosure: I received a copy of the book free of charge for the purpose of this review. I remain have not been instructed what to write and I remain honest.
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