Advice Column, Lifestyle, Tech, Tween & Teen

Parenting In The Information Age

  • Heather Hansen
  • Category Advice Column, Lifestyle, Tech, Tween & Teen

There’s no doubt that parenting is not an easy job. It requires enormous dedication, self-sacrifice, patience and love. Even with all that, there is no guarantee that our children will emerge from their childhood into the adults we hoped for. As parents we have a huge influence, however our children are also influenced by their outer circle – siblings, extended family, friends, teachers, school peers, sports coaches, etc. Nowadays we also have the Age of Information to contend with – an ever-increasing influence on our developing children.

We had to gradually accustom ourselves to this digital revolution, but our children have grown up with it. It has influenced how they communicate, socialise, learn, think and play. They are continually bombarded with a sea of information through radio, TV, video games and the internet via pc’s, laptops, i-pads and cell phones. They must evaluate whether the information is relevant or not – not a simple task when your brain is still developing! We may remember our own childhoods being carefree, innocent, playful, filled with imagination and wonder but the world wasn’t really like that – we were just blissfully unaware of what was going on around us.

So is it possible to raise our children to be responsible, upstanding adults who care and contribute to society? Yes, definitely; we just have to be more aware and in touch, keep up to date with technology and be good role models. We cannot bury our heads in the sand – we have to embrace this information age and keep ourselves and our children informed of the potential risks and consequences of using all the devices they have at their disposal. Some of these are:

AddictionMany kids (and adults) are completely addicted to their cell phones. They feel out of touch and concerned they’ll be left out if they are not in touch 24/7. Children may also be addicted to playing games on their i-pads, playstations, x-boxes or computer video games.
Health RisksThe jury’s still out, but some medical research indicates that EMR’s (electro magnetic rays) emitted by devices like cell phones and i-pads can affect our children’s brain development and affect their sleep patterns. Many kids stay on their devices until the wee hours every night eventually causing sleep deprivation. RSI (repetitive strain injury) aka BlackBerry Thumb from all that texting is on the increase. Brain tumours, breast and testicular cancer are also a potential threat.
Social skillsSome sociologists worry that soon kids may be unable to make friends and maintain relationships without their cell phones. They don’t always give one-on-one interactions the attention they deserve due to being distracted by their phones. Face to face communication skills are being affected. Not everyone has good cellphone manners!
Inhibitions loweredWith the press of a key, a child can have his/her reputation ruined. Sexting is becoming a huge problem – sending inappropriate photos or text messages which are then distributed far and wide. More and more boys are accessing porn (even 9/10 year olds) which gives incorrect information, takes away the sanctity of sex, objectifies girls and women and is quite possibly linked with entitlement or violent behaviour later on, in addition to affecting their sexual response system as an adult.
Cyber bullyingIt’s on the increase everywhere including SA. A study done in 2012 indicated that one in five high school learners in Gauteng have been a victim. Children don’t realise that putting their nasty thoughts into words online can have a huge impact on their target and on themselves. It may not just break school rules, but may also have legal implications.
Predator riskPeople can be whoever they want to be on the internet. Children are particularly vulnerable because they may equate their popularity with the number of contacts on their cell phone, FaceBook, Twitter, SnapChat, Instagram, Tumblr, etc. Throw in the fact that they are going through puberty, unsure about their attractiveness and want to fit in and be accepted, and it’s potentially a recipe for disaster. Children accept other kids as contacts even if they’ve never met and are “followed” by total strangers. Predators cast their nets out far and wide and children are often targeted and groomed for nefarious purposes.

Children don’t realise that the digital world is like a huge filing cabinet and everything they say and do is stored there for a long time, if not forever. More and more schools, universities and potential employers are looking at social media profiles to get an idea of who the person is before they make a decision on whether or not they will accept them into their institutions. One tiny mistake can have a ripple effect and make a lasting impact on a child’s life.

Parents should be friends with their children on BBM, FaceBook and other social media platforms to keep an eye on their status and watch out for inappropriate posts and content. You don’t have to overdo it and make comments all the time – respect your child’s space while watching over them. You should also check out their cell phone from time to time (you should have their passwords). Explain that your responsibility to keep them safe overrides their right to privacy!

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