danah boyd-2

Parenting in a Digital World: Same But Much Different


“The internet mirrors, magnifies and makes more visible, the good, the bad and the ugly of everyday life”

I love this quote from Danah Boyd, author of ‘It’s Complicated: the Social Lives of Networked Teens’ 2014

I apply this analogy of the internet as a mirror that magnifies and reflects to all my understandings of teaching online behaviour. Everything parents had to teach before, they now have to amplify for the online world. Many of the values are the same. We have rules of etiquette, and we now have rules of Netiquette. The foundations and the beliefs are the same, but we have to expand our teaching to cope with the changes to the environment.

The transparent and permanent nature of the online world, warrants this need to do all we have ever done before, but with even more gusto and purpose.

That is not to say we wont get to a point where we have to trust our teaching. Let them out into the big world to explore and gain independence. We allow our kids to walk to the shops, catch public transport or have a sleepover at friends because we are confident they have the skills to handle themselves in those situations. So too, we need to get to a point where we have the confidence in our kids to explore the online world, make connections and interact with others in a safe and responsible manner. There are never any guarantees, but we need to do all we can to give them the best chance of getting it right.

We cant expect them to know all the skills, the critical thinking and the behaviours to be always be safe and responsible if we havnt invested the time and energy teaching, supporting and guiding them.  We need to amp up our lessons in what is and isn’t acceptable.  We need to help them know how to determine whether someone is who they say they are. We need to teach them about giving  an opinion without being aggressive or personally attacking someone. We want to instil in them the confidence to avoid listening to the noise and the drama and the ability to click away when they need to.

The problem for parents today however, is that these were not skills we had to learn as kids. These are not skills our parents had to teach us.  If we don’t keep up with the technology, if we don’t have a really solid understanding of what our kids are doing online, then we will struggle to be that teacher for them.

Sometimes that means letting them have a go, watching what they do and correcting or highlighting behaviours that may get them in to trouble. As I scrolled through my sons Instagram feed last night, I had to show him a few examples of what his ‘friends’ were doing and use this conversation as a teachable moment. We have done this before and will continue to do it. We talk about how people are putting themselves out there, the reputations, the images, the perceptions and the possible implications of this image not representing themselves in the most positive light. He may not take everything on board and he will make the odd mistake, but if I am there monitoring through this ‘learning phase’ I know that I am setting him up to carry forward a digital persona that can be a positive reflection of who he is.

So whilst our values, beliefs and boundaries can carry across the many elements of raising our kids, the addition of the online environment calls for a new and amplified approach to getting our kids through adolescents. Lets continue to seek out knowledge, understand our kids perspective but give them the wisdom of our experience and insight and learn all we can to help give them the independence to be safe, responsible, courteous , respected and respectful digital kids.

 Do you agree that we have to change the way we parent due to the impact of the online world?

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This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. I’m so aware of all of this digital stuff that I hope that by the time my kids have their own digital ‘stuff’ I can help direct them wisely!

  2. Mark

    I not exactly sure I agree with you. In many ways I think the Internet intensifies focus. Especially as Google, Facebook, etc dictate to a large degree the direction in which we digitally travel.

    As an old dinosaur I can remember that a great joy was had just wondering around the non-fiction section of the library and browsing at the subjects on display. The singular aspect of the screen does not allow the unexpected stumbling of gems.

    So I try to encourage my kids to use the Internet as a tool but to look for hard copy alternatives where possible like newspapers, journals and books.

  3. It’s lucky for me that my teens aren’t going onto any social media that I don’t use myself. Do you think boys get into this less than girls? And my 8 year olds don’t use social media at all and I will enforce age limits when the time comes. There’s a heap of swearing when the boys message friends… but in lots of ways I think my teens are growing up a lot slower than I did… ironic, isn’t it? At 14 and 17, they’re too busy on their computers to go off and drink under age like my friends and I did!!

  4. Hannah Masters

    I too am raising 5 teens, and you are so right we have to teach them how to be good digital citizens. I use a service called http://www.uknowkids.com that filters my kiddos social media and texts…only alerting me when things go out of bounds. They get the privacy they want while I have the peace of mind I need. I am able to have many teachable moments, and my kids know that in addition to all the admins and moderators out there, I too am one. This helps me guide them through this new digital frontier. Knowing that things they post live forever and can impact their lives for years or forever.

  5. Loretta

    I think you are 100% right. We must teach our kids these values because this is the world they are growing up in. I constantly monitor my son’s instagram and kik accounts, and I believe every parent should be doing the same. This is when we can point out their mistakes and help them correct them. In doing this we are teaching them the correct social etiquette that is just as important on the internet as it is in real life. It’s an extension of parenting that cannot go unactioned. Once something is out there there’s no taking it back. Thank you for going there, if only more parents did, kids would be so much better equipped when dealing with the digital world.

  6. EssentiallyJess

    It’s funny how you say we were never taught, and maybe that’s why there is so much antagonism on social media? We are drunk from the power of being able to say whoever we want?
    But then are those who create online drama also the kind of people who create it in real life too? I think like anything, it starts with moral values that show respect and honour for others and ourselves. That way it automatically filters down to how we treat people on line.

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