'It takes a digital village to raise a digital child': Mom and co-founder of a local digital safety agency shares top tips

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"It doesn't help for your child to be safe while your neighbours' is not, or to have rules at home while your child's school has none". (iStock)
"It doesn't help for your child to be safe while your neighbours' is not, or to have rules at home while your child's school has none". (iStock)

What makes a senior corporate manager with a solid career trajectory through glass ceilings stop midway and become an expert in digital app development, fluent in social media lingo and a guru in artificial intelligence?

Yep, you guessed it, motherhood.

Having spent more than twenty years building a high intensity, high stress, high impact role as an environmental lawyer, and then legal, risk and governance manager in one of South Africa's largest petrochemical companies, Kate Farina took the difficult decision to leave her profession and pursue other "make a difference" opportunities.

She realised that she hadn't, after all, done years of IVF treatment to become a furiously juggling mom, disconnected from her two quickly growing children.

She soon saw a new challenge and, as a 40 something-year-old mum of two tweens, knew that she simply had to understand the digital world better, especially if she wanted to manage its impact on her kids.

Also read: 'We need to take the consequences of cyberbullying seriously' - how to become a cyber-savvy parent

Struggling to keep afloat in this modern age of digital parenting

Kate was not alone. She came across many like-minded parents, all struggling to keep afloat in this modern age of digital parenting and desperate for simplified and practical information, guidelines, resources and tools to help their families develop healthy digital habits.

In 2018, Kate co-founded Be In Touch, a digital agency specialising in creating exactly that: a practical response to educating, protecting and connecting families in the digital age. "We are totally pro-tech, but we are also pro-balance," Kate says. "The digital world is an amazing place, so our goal as parents should be to help our kids to get the most out of it, but to do so safely."

There have been several studies revealing alarming findings about how the internet is impacting children: 70,9% of under 13's encounter nudity or sexual content online, 88,5% experience violent subject matter1 and there is a 27% increase in the risk of depression when 8th graders start frequently using social media. 

All this is in the context of 10.3 years old being the average age for a child to get their first smartphone3? While these statistics are mainly taken from the United States and the United Kingdom, Kate says that judging from the work that Be In Touch does in schools, South Africa is not far behind.

'A lawless, uncaring and age-inappropriate digital world' 

Her experience as a mother and a lawyer have perhaps primed Kate to look at the internet from a different perspective.

She says, "When I became a mom, I understood the concept that it takes a village to raise a child, but now that my life's work is to advocate for the safety of kids online, I know that it also takes a digital village to raise a digital child. And that right now, there is a whole generation of children being raised by a lawless, uncaring and age-inappropriate digital world."

Building that digital village and equipping parents with the practical tools they need is what Be in Touch does, Kate explains. "It doesn't help for your child to be safe while your neighbours' is not, or to have rules at home while your child's school has none. Every child is only as safe as the village they are in."

By undertaking surveys and running talks at schools, hosting online learning experiences, and offering products that help parents to easily and successfully add digital parenting into their role, Be in Touch is part of a growing number of global organisations working towards creating a safer online world for our children.

Be in Touch family digital rules 

There are a few rules Be in Touch suggests families incorporate to ensure digital safety, here's a look at the digital agency's top tips. 

• Sit down with your family and agree to a Family Digital Alliance encompassing your family's rules and guidelines for device use, and keep each other honest on your agreement;

• Set No-Go zones and times for device use in your home;

• Understand that app developers are NOT regulated, so they set their own age restrictions for social media apps and games - often 12 or 13 years when they should, in reality, be much higher;

• Avoid letting your kids own their own smartphone or tablet until they are 18 and treat it like a car: loan it to them with conditions of use so that you can check it when you want to, install parental filters, and take it back again if the privilege is abused. Only when they own it do they set their own rules.

• Make sure that all devices "sleep" at night in communal charging zones and not in bedrooms;

• Keep striving for tech-life balance: those "missed opportunities" are detrimental to young developing brains and bodies;

• Remember that NMK (not my kid) might well be the most damaging thought to pass any parent's mind.

Submitted to Parent24 by Be in Touch. 


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