This article is part of a WebSafety’s Digital Parent Voices series. All ideas expressed are the writer’s own.
By Parven Jessy
Like any parent I have high aspirations for my child. I want her to grow up to be a confident, successful person. I hope that she will pursue her dreams and find her own passions. But most importantly, I pray that she turns out to be a decent human being — someone who is kind, respectful and caring.
But how do I instil all of this in today’s world of pervasive social media platforms filled with hate speech and vitriol? On a daily basis I read about teenage girls feeling depressed due to social media and cyberbullying. Recent statistics show that 75% of all mental health illnesses in the UK start before a person reaches 18 years of age and the internet is becoming one of the main reasons for this.
I can always be the mum who bans devices at home. But I can only do that up to a certain age. At some point in her life she will be part of the digital world; that is just an inevitable fact.
I ask myself, “should I not allow her to have any screen time at all for the sake of protecting her?” or “should I show it to her, so I can prepare her for the digital future?” I imagine Alexa, Google, iPads and social media will be part of her life.
Instead of running away from devices, I decided that I should dive deep and learn more about them. If I understand what is behind the screen, then I will be able to protect her and also help her use it responsibly.
The devices that I am so afraid of might just be the very gadgets that can help shape her character and help her expand her horizons – if used correctly!
Here’s my plan:
Share positivity on social media
Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram can be filled with positivity as long as you follow the right people. If I see a nice photo or video that is inspirational I will share it with my daughter. At the same time, I will warn her about the dangers of social media and the risks on being on social media platforms.
If (when) she decides to have a social media account, I would encourage her to be true to herself. Never change who she is to please the world despite the criticism that may come with it.
I will encourage her to follow influencers who are sharing positivity on the internet. For instance, Gary Vaynerchuck encourages teens to follow their dreams and Jay Shetty is an urban monk who talks about mindfulness.
Broadening her outlook on life
Watching documentaries about people from different backgrounds, races and religions can build compassion and empathy.
YouTube Channels such as Real Stories and Planet Doc show different communities, people dealing with mental health issues, and those that are less fortunate. These shows will allow her to respect another person values and beliefs and also appreciate all that she has.
While YouTube has some good content, it is still filled with a lot of negativity. I will not allow my daughter to browse YouTube on her own. Instead I will guide her on how and what to search and hopefully that will inculcate a goal-oriented search habit rather than a passive watch-whatever’s-dished-up viewing habit.
Play video games together
As a child I remember playing board games with my family on the weekends. It was the one day in the week that we got to spend a few hours together and connect with each other. I imagine board games will be replaced by video games.
While I am not a gamer, my husband is an avid gamer. He has mentioned a few times that he would like to play with our daughter when she gets a little bigger. Family-oriented multiplayer games give the opportunity to practice team work and problem solving while having a lot of fun. At the same time, you also get to use the same tech they use, and show them you’re not an outdated dinosaur who they can’t connect with.
Be positive and respectful while playing the game. For instance, “help me on this side” instead of “you are rubbish at this”. Don’t let your child give up if they lose. Keep repeating the game until the goal is achieved, this will also teach them perseverance.
Our home is constantly buzzing with different notifications, text messages and social media posts, which can sometimes be overwhelming.
When the phone buzzes I resist the urge to respond immediately. The same goes for social media. When I see a social media post that makes me angry or want to react, I take a moment and step back from it. I will teach my daughter to do the same, to not react right away and to think before posting.
The perennial advice of not having phones at the dinner table, and for us, during those lazy weekend days, really does work! It may sound like a lot to ask but try it and you’ll see the difference it makes in your family dynamic. The worst that could happen is you’ll be last to find out that Aunt Rosy is getting divorced… again! On the other hand, if it works, you could form a lasting habit that your children can take on to their own families.
Give it a try!
Technology is not necessarily bad as long as we teach our children to use it in a healthy and responsible way. Guide your child not just in the real world but also in the virtual one. By doing so, you will help them gather the skills and habits to become responsible digital citizens.
About Parven Jessy
Parven Jessy is the founder of Kids N Clicks; a web resource aimed at helping parents and children thrive in a digital world. Through her work, Jessy has been recognized as a “Digital Pioneer” by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organizations and by Parenting 2.0 for improving digital literacy. Her experience comes from her extensive career in digital media consultancy, working with various charitable organizations across Scotland. Parven lives with her family in Edinburgh. When she is not sharing her digital parenting news and tips, you can find her playing with her toddler and enjoying short walks in the Scottish countryside.