Parenting in the digital age

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An October 2013 OfCom Report found that children now access the world from younger ages than ever before, thereby opening themselves up to a world of learning possibilities, combined with a darker world of potentially dangerous situations.

As tablets slowly become common place in South African classrooms, so more and more children will turn to electronic devices and the internet to learn, communicate and engage with the world beyond their front door. Children are also becoming technology owners in their own homes, as their parents purchase mobile devices for them to learn and communicate with. An October 2013 OfCom Report found that children now access the world from younger ages than ever before, thereby opening themselves up to a world of learning possibilities, combined with a darker world of potentially dangerous situations.
But the question remains – how do parents adapt to this digitally driven lifestyle, especially when their upbringing had little or no Internet-backed backdrop?

This question plagued Mike Saunders, the CEO of DigitLab, a Durban-based digital marketing agency and father. Over the past few years, Mike found that he was also regularly fielding questions from fellow parents and clients that required him to give an opinion and offer guidelines related to cyber-bullying and how to protect children from its dangers. Spurred on by his growing interest in the realms of online safety, he teamed up with Tamryn Coats of Ububele Psychotherapy and Educational Centre in Johannesburg, and created a short booklet entitled “Raising Digital Citizens – Parenting in the Digital Age”. The booklet can be downloaded for free from www.mikesaunders.com.

Whilst the booklet takes readers through some critical points related to securing children’s online experiences and gives parents guidelines on how to assist a child who has had a negative online experience, it also focuses on empowering children to protect themselves online, including helpful, plain language rules for digital interactions.

A very strong emphasis is still placed, however, on parental responsibility and interested involvement in a child’s online life. Mike says that by adhering to key guidelines, parents will go a long way in securing their children’s experiences online and safeguard them against cyberbullying and other nefarious activities. These guidelines include “getting involved in your children’s digital life, talking about the digital world in conversation with your children and setting some home rules that protect your child while at home so they can learn the discipline of a healthy digital life”.

Mike firmly believes that a child’s digital life be steered by parents, but that schools and other child-focused supporting structures within society need to be better equipped to deal with this transformation of youth’s lifestyle and technology-driven upbringing. He says: “Cyberbullying happens at all hours of the day, in school, out of school. That’s why I believe parents need to come to grips with this more than schools. Parents are responsible for shaping a child's value systems, disciplines and moral standards. Schools and counsellors can definitely help but it is ultimately the parents’ responsibility. Schools need to take the lead in educating parents on the dangers and challenges of their child's digital world. Child support systems need to be re-thought to include the digital lifestyle and behaviour of children. Children need to be educated so that they may understand the responsibilities and consequences attached to their behaviour online and offline”.

How do you feel about your kids growing up in the digital age?

Disclaimer: The views of columnists published on Parent24 are their own and therefore do not necessarily represent the views of Parent24.
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