Why parents need to embrace their children’s digital future

Kinderling News & Features

Photo credit: Daniel Guerra

There’s a Buddhist way of looking at life that’s called “beginner’s mind”. It basically says that we all need to come to situations and life with a sense of the new, of knowing nothing.

It’s a phrase that comes back to me when I think about my children and their lives online. Because, being five and three, their lives will be lived online. No matter how many boundaries I put on my children or how much I encourage them to play outside, part of their development is going to be online. And I know nothing about that.

I started using Facebook when it was invented. When everyone was yelling from the rafters that this was a new era and privacy was dead. Only dinosaurs thought we needed privacy. Now, we know better. We know that the internet is still the unregulated Wild West. That children can be subject to online bullying and approaches from strangers. From a glowing screen, hidden behind a closed door. That terrifies me.

One day I came into the bedroom and my three year old had found my phone, opened it and was watching Russian cartoons on YouTube. I had no idea how any of that had happened. That was when it hit me like a tonne of bricks - I needed to start from scratch.

Listen to our eSafety series on Kinderling Conversation:

I needed to accept that I know nothing, and that’s okay. That I’m part of a generation of parents with no idea because we have no previous generation to look to for advice, to ask “how did you do it?”

We will be the ones showing those after us what to do, and what not to do. After all, technology and how we use it is constantly changing. But right here, right now, we need to accept that it’s up to us to decide what the rules are for our children. We need to guide them through the online world the same way we’d guide them through other parts of life.

To some of you, this may seem obvious but to me it was a revelation. I’ve been haunted by the knowledge that I’m out of my depth when it comes to the online world and my kids. But when I realised that this is the start of something new for most parents of young children, I feel less stupid and helpless. I feel empowered and ready to learn.

Which is where the Office of the eSafety Commissioner steps in. The Office is set up specifically to help protect people online. They have a wealth of resources for parents, so that we can keep on top of what our kids are doing. Kinderling Conversation has partnered with the eSafety Commissioner to work out how we, as parents, can feel confident about our children’s safety online.

I’ve learnt so much in the process.

The first step, which you can hear about in our first episode Starting from scratch: bringing children up in a digital age (listen in the player above) outlines why it makes so much sense for us all to start at the beginning.

We’ll talk about how parents can use the Office of the eSafety Commissioner to become online educators for our kids, even when we have no idea how to use Snapchat. We’ll also go into the top three parental concerns identified by the Office: contact with strangers, access to inappropriate content, and excessive screen use.

While I’ve been doing this series, I’ve finally taken a good look at the privacy settings on my phone and iPad (that only took five years!). I call it “technoprocrastination”.

Ultimately I’ve learnt that how I deal with my kids’ education about the online world is pretty much the same as everything else I’ve done so far as a parent.

That is, I had no idea about how to change a nappy, how to handle tantrums or what kind of discipline would work in my family. It takes practice, you tussle your way through and discover what works for your family – in an emotional and practical way as well. How much screen time are you comfortable with? Can you really get out the door without the TV on in the morning?

The same rules apply: how I behave is just as important as what I expect my children to do. I will make mistakes, but that is part of the process and I need to be ok with that.

The point is, it’s all a learning experience. Children’s online safety is no different.