Navigating parenthood in the digital age

Many of you will have seen recent reports in the media regarding inappropriate images of school girls being circulated on the internet.

Parenting can be a challenge for many of us, but in the digital age where children access the internet and social media readily, it can be very daunting.

We recently sat down with Martine Oglethorpe, Founder of The Modern Parent, who regularly speaks with parents about navigating parenthood in the digital age and talked to her about these recent incidents and asked her for some tips we could share with our community.

We asked Martine about how we encourage respectful behaviour in our children when they are on social media. She recommends looking for “relevant teachable moments”, arguing that telling them that what they post online will affect their career is futile, when most children can’t think that far ahead. Instead, ask them whether they would like their sports coach or Principal to see their comment. Or ask them how they think the comment makes them look. Will it affect their chances of making team captain or getting a part in the school production?

Another issue that comes hand-in-hand with the internet is access to pornography. Martine told us, “Statistics show that the average age of a child when they are first exposed to pornography is 11. They may have stumbled across it or  been shown by a peer or an older child. It’s far more graphic than anything appearing in print and the content is often of a violent and degrading nature.”

Martine was quick to point out that sharing of images is not gender specific and is just another way that teenagers communicate with each other. It’s not enough to say “don’t do it”. Many teenagers are looking for validation, and one way to do that is sharing images online.

Some of the things Martine recommends:

Restrict access to the internet

This might mean restricting the amount of time they spend on screens and ensuring that you are aware of what children are viewing.

Talk to them about your, and their values

Discuss values with them and show them that their values has to mirror how they behave online.

Discuss their online persona

Many people create a different persona online to how they are in real life. Try to instil the idea that they need to be how they are in real life online.

Avoid exposure to pornography

This is difficult as someone else might show them, but software is available to block unwanted sites.

Be prepared to have uncomfortable conversations

This is arguably the most important tip of all. As uncomfortable as it may be, we must be prepared to have conversations with our children about pornography. It is important to get the message across that what they might see online does not reflect real life relationships.

Suggested resource: Growing Up Fast and Furious: Reviewing the impacts of violent and sexualised media on children