So, I’m currently in Bali on a girl’s trip and twice a day I Facetime the kids. You may think this is lame, but ironically, when I'm away I miss them, and I want to see their little faces on my screen at least once a day.
I also email my 8-year-old because sometimes, it’s easier to write than talk. This is especially true when both daughters are on Facetime together, as they end up yelling over each other, or try to get the most ‘face-time’ with mom, and it inevitably ends in tears. I definitely don’t miss that. What surprised me about the emailing though, is the additional information she provided about her day. The conversation after school usually goes like this; “How was school?” I ask. “Good,” is the standard reply, and off she goes to play or do homework until we all sit down to dinner and more specific questions are asked.
Even then, only some things are shared, while other information takes a few days to be revealed. On email however, I got the entire download of her day immediately, and I was so excited she shared so much, I Facetimed her (again) that night. I clearly rock at this e-parenting business, maybe I should go away more often!
Then I started doing research and realized how severely limited my understanding of e-parenting was. Did you know that, according to the Australian Psychological Society, the average age of a child exposed to online pornography is 11? So, at such a young age, kids cannot walk up the road to buy milk for fear of abduction or assault, but they are exposed to 'unsavoury' online content. My research also revealed that early exposure to adult content, can result in problems such as depression and low self-esteem, which makes sense. This parenting ‘loophole’ is just one of the many that can be overlooked or glossed over. I think this is because we are the e-parenting frontiers, and generally, we have no idea what we are doing. Nor do we have any role models, as our parents didn’t have to worry about this.
I suddenly realized with a cold chill (yes, even in Bali), that e-parenting isn’t merely parenting in a digital age via digital means. We also have to have a presence in our children’s digital lives. These days, children enter the world with a digital footprint. Their development, even in utero, is often shared enthusiastically by parents on social media. After birth, they are tagged with baby announcements and hashtags over social media, highlighting their milestones and achievements. I have to admit that I am guilty of giving my firstborn her own website, where she ‘spoke’ about her experiences for the first year of her life (it was a good way to keep relatives and friends overseas updated). What new parent didn’t post everything on Facebook back then? She was born into a digital persona, I’m largely to blame for this, and I have a responsibility to protect that as much as I do her physical one.
This thought is scary. Parenting in real life is hard enough, now I have to think about the digital side of life. Which leads me to these questions: Do I take down my posts? Do I delete my Facebook account, has Cambridge Analytica already mapped my personality and do I stop blogging about parenting because this is also a ‘footprint’?
According to Dr. Joanne Orlando, an expert in the field of technology and children, the way to address this is through conversations threaded into everyday family life about what you see and do online. The ‘old-fashioned’ way of sitting down at the dinner table to ‘have a chat’ about digital safety isn’t enough, and she suggests, “not waiting until they are 15 to start it.”
Aside from setting clear boundaries, we need to promote online literacy, foster an ability to critique information and ensure our children are aware of all social networking features, such as privacy options. We then have to encourage them to think carefully about the information and images they post. There are so many facets to protecting a child’s digital existence and in the end we also hope we teach them to be responsible online citizens too.
Well, I’m not sure about you, but reading all this is rapidly changing my mindset on e-parenting. Not only do I need to e-parent myself on being more conscious about what I post, I also have to plan digital parenting beyond my 8-year-old having an email address, and thinking I rock for monitoring it. Now excuse me while I Facetime her to talk about privacy settings.
[Images via pexels.com]
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