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BojanaMumsnet (MNHQ) Wed 12-Aug-20 14:16:02

Guest post: “The contradictions of digital parenting”

Sonia Livingstone and Alicia Blum-Ross write about the realities of digital parenting today - how parents balance their hopes and fears about technology

Sonia Livingstone & Alicia Blum-Ross

Posted on: Wed 12-Aug-20 14:16:02

(10 comments )

Lead photo

"Digital parenting is no single or simple matter"

As the COVID-19 pandemic progresses, a flood of advice about digital technologies is adding to the demands on parents to manage family life, money, health, education, work and more, all while being heavily restricted in their activities and resources. This advice is fundamentally contradictory. First, with familiar panics about screen time exacerbated by lockdown, parents have been expected to monitor, calculate and limit their children’s time spent across multiple digital devices. Second, given heightened hopes that the internet offers a vital workaround for school work, as well as sustaining friendships and family relations, parents have been called upon to provide devices and connectivity, and to optimise children’s online opportunities so that they don’t fall behind or lose out.

Neither injunction is proving easy – parents are supposedly “ignoring screen time limits” and yet their children are “struggling to continue learning at home” because of a lack of digital devices. The consequences appear dire – “Coronavirus lockdowns are worsening child obesity due to kids spending an extra FIVE HOURS per day in front of a screen,” evidence of a “sharp increase in UK child sexual abuse during pandemic” and yet the digital divide is growing as ever more children fall behind. Too much technology, and yet not enough technology. What are parents to do?

In our research for Parenting for a Digital Future: How Hopes and Fears About Technology Shape Children’s Lives, based on in-depth interviews with London parents and a national survey completed before the pandemic, we found that parents have been living with this contradictory advice ever since the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued its famous 2x2 screen time rules nearly 20 years ago. Though few have heard of the AAP, it amazed us how the rules – not more than two hours per day and no screen time for the under twos – have filtered into UK parents’ consciousness. Even though they were based on evidence about TV viewing, long before mass use of the internet and smartphone, they seem to have become more a source of guilt, and a rod for parents’ backs, than helpful guidance to lighten parents’ load. One mum, Melissa, told us:

Whichever approach they choose, parents are clear that the future will be digital


“We’ve got so much information now about screen time being bad or just stuff being pumped at us. You sort of feel guilty […] if you let them have too much.”

Our survey showed that parents report significantly more conflict about screen time than about how children use the technologies. All this is worrying because:

1. Parents told us they would prefer independent guidance on which digital activities are likely to be positive or negative for their child than just being told to count the hours and impose restrictions. But they (and we) don’t know where to turn for this advice.
2. Informed judgements about the what, how and with whom of digital engagement can open up a positive conversation between parents and children, supporting the democratic model of family life that many parents now seek. After all, policing your child’s digital life is reminiscent of the authoritarian Victorian family that most are glad to have left behind.
3. Parents are not digitally ignorant – many find pleasure in snuggling up on the sofa and watching, playing or coding something together, and many have some digital expertise they’d like to share with their children.

This last point is reiterated by the parent bloggers we interviewed. Lena began blogging for the community and self-expression it offered, also encouraging her 12-year-old daughter to blog her poetry and nurture her future ‘brand.’ Glad that her daughter was learning Scratch at school, (Lena believes “coding is the new Latin”) we could see how this enabled interests and expertise to be shared between Lena and her daughter. Yet Lena felt overwhelmed by the “tsunami” of devices in her home, also seeking to control or even resist her children’s embrace of all things digital.

Digital parenting is no single or simple matter. We found parents variously embracing, balancing and resisting the role of digital technologies in family life at different times, and for a range of reasons that we explore in the book. Each approach brings its own anxieties, as parents ask themselves: Did I get it right? Will it pay off? Embracing means positioning yourself ahead of the curve, feeling exposed and acting before social norms and resources are in place to offer support. Balancing is an active and effortful process, like standing on a rolling log. Not simply a compromise, it invites constant self-questioning and adjustment: Is this right? How can I tell? Resisting may mean worrying about missing out professionally or personally, or that you’re going out on a limb, taking a risk by not doing what everyone else seems to be doing.

Lena also confirmed our finding that parents often feel unsupported in facing digital challenges – especially when compared to other challenges, for which they can turn to their own parents or official advice that’s more helpful than the dated screen time rules. Lena told us she experienced a “constant sense of being afloat on a sea of hysteria,” not least because other parents seemed so quick to judge and criticise – turning to them could be like walking into “a pit of quicksand.”

Whichever approach they choose, parents are clear that the future will be digital. ‘Turning it off’ is no longer feasible, especially in a post-pandemic world where childhood is digital by default. But a new contradiction is raising concern: the more society relies on parents to find ways and means to bring up their children for a digital future, the greater the digital inequalities will be, given families’ very different circumstances and resources. Sending laptops into the poorest homes, even if achievable, is far from sufficient. It’s vital that the key institutions (government, health, education, welfare, employment) that rely on parents to provide a digital home should build a supportive infrastructure, tailored to diverse circumstances and responsive to parents’ concerns.

Parenting for a Digital Future: How Hopes and Fears About Technology Shape Children’s Lives by Sonia Livingstone and Alicia Blum-Ross is published by Oxford University Press on 7 August 2020. It’s also on Amazon, and chapter 1 'Expectations' is free to read online until 24 October 2020.

Sonia Livingstone is a professor in the Department of Media and Communications at LSE. She has published 20 books on media audiences, especially children’s risks and opportunities, media literacy and rights in the digital environment.

Alicia Blum-Ross is a researcher, educator and advocate who has worked in academia, industry and civil society to study and create opportunities for children, youth and families to more safely connect, create and learn online.

The authors will be able to respond to some questions and comments next week.

By Sonia Livingstone & Alicia Blum-Ross

Twitter: @Livingstone_S

jakeyboy1 Wed 12-Aug-20 21:39:34

We had some issues with the way our school was setting work during lockdown and preferred to print it off but the system they were using was not easy to print from. On complaining about this the head teacher's immediate response was "most people just leave them with an iPad you could do that".
My kids are 5 and 8. I feel it would be totally irresponsible to just leave them with an iPad whilst I'm working! Was totally shocked by this attitude and the assumption that everyone has digital devices to hand.

creaturcomforts Thu 13-Aug-20 01:58:36

Yes, its not easy, my 13 year old dd has had to have support with home learning, as often the links provided with the subjects haven't worked and it's been too complicated for dd to follow! In regards to instructions online and then read this and link to PowerPoint etc.

Its assuming that the children have a parent who is familiar with the programmes (I don't but I've tried to do as much as I can with dd) and who have a computer that is capable.

We managed about 70 percent and couldnt manage any more as we either didn't understand the instructions or links were broken and there was no way of communicating this to the school.

I think the assumption is that everyone has the same level of technical knowledge andi really feel I let my dd down!

fascinated Sun 16-Aug-20 21:48:53

Lots of schoolwork videos on YouTube, so that you can’t just block it.so you’re left trying to police your child watching fun stuff instead of working. Or even inappropriate stuff, or which there is plenty. Just giving them screens and devices isn’t the answer - adults need to monitor and facilitate. Dread to think the kind of stuff kids just “left with an iPad” have been seeing...

Guineapigbridge Mon 17-Aug-20 04:20:48

It's hard being the parent of a tween. On the one hand we are told "screens are addictive, games are addictive, ideally they'd have no screentime whatsoever" and on the other hand our kids' whole lives are geared toward tech. All their friends connect with each other using games and messaging apps and they're using their devices 3-4 hours per day for school. The very second they finish school they want to go on YouTube or Roblox or Messenger. It's ALL they want. They get very, very annoyed when they can't have it. And we, as their parents, quite like our tech as well - so we can't be total hypocrites and use our phones and PC's if they're not allowed to too.
Yet, on the other hand, I've seen the effects of this tech on kids. It makes them angry, lacking in concentration, impatient, vulnerable to exploitation, and in many cases very dull. The kids I know who use a lot of tech do not seem to be able to play imaginatively, for example, or hold a short conversation with an adult.
The only parents I know who have successfully navigated this with their kids have had HARDLINE "no screen time" rules for their tweens. These parents are with their kids constantly, invariably doing outdoor activities. This seems to require a very high (almost impossible) level of commitment from their parents. It's like you have to be a perfect parent to be even remotely successful at steering your kids away from screen addiction. I can't meet that standard, I'm busy, I'm trying to juggle the needs of our whole family and our respective employers.

I feel like I'm between a rock and a hard place. Our compromise, allowing our kids to play games (Roblox, usually, sometimes Minecraft) between 5pm and 6pm and letting them go to a very tech-friendly school still means they're on devices 3-5 hours a day!!! and we are strict when compared to our peers.

SoniaLivingstone Thu 20-Aug-20 20:09:09

Hi everyone and thanks for your comments. I look forward to answering them.

AliciaBlumRoss Thu 20-Aug-20 20:51:04

jakeyboy1

We had some issues with the way our school was setting work during lockdown and preferred to print it off but the system they were using was not easy to print from. On complaining about this the head teacher's immediate response was "most people just leave them with an iPad you could do that".
My kids are 5 and 8. I feel it would be totally irresponsible to just leave them with an iPad whilst I'm working! Was totally shocked by this attitude and the assumption that everyone has digital devices to hand.

Issues around technology access are really difficult for schools to manage, given every parent has a different set-up at home. However no school should assume that all parents have access to working technology and should work with parents to ensure that children do have access. That said, if you are using personal devices like ipads for schoolwork, a few things to consider: first, make sure you’re logged in to the school ed tech platform (Google Classroom, Class Dojo etc) and that you check your privacy settings. Second, many tablets offer accessibility features, on an iPad it’s called Guided Access, which allow you to set the device so our child can only access the app you selected. Third, when using general audience apps, you need to supervise your child, which the school should actively encourage parents to do. And while we are glad that the school was giving some grace to parents and keeping a low bar, that bar sounds pretty low and if they’re encouraging parents to use tech, they should also equip parents with the tools to do so safely.

AliciaBlumRoss Thu 20-Aug-20 20:58:30

creaturcomforts

Yes, its not easy, my 13 year old dd has had to have support with home learning, as often the links provided with the subjects haven't worked and it's been too complicated for dd to follow! In regards to instructions online and then read this and link to PowerPoint etc.

Its assuming that the children have a parent who is familiar with the programmes (I don't but I've tried to do as much as I can with dd) and who have a computer that is capable.

We managed about 70 percent and couldnt manage any more as we either didn't understand the instructions or links were broken and there was no way of communicating this to the school.

I think the assumption is that everyone has the same level of technical knowledge andi really feel I let my dd down!

First of all 70% sounds great! give yourself a lot of patience this is an impossible time and schools are really learning how best to communicate with parents and partner with them to send out information if you can please consider working with your daughter to teach her some of the skills that might help her access the links and other material on her own – this is a good time as any to work on the basics of digital literacy. Even older children struggle to do remote learning independently and parents and other caregivers are in an tricky situation trying to support children while also working or taking care of your own duties. Try to communicate with the school if you feel that the expectations are too high.

SoniaLivingstone Thu 20-Aug-20 20:58:50

Guineapigbridge

It's hard being the parent of a tween. On the one hand we are told "screens are addictive, games are addictive, ideally they'd have no screentime whatsoever" and on the other hand our kids' whole lives are geared toward tech. All their friends connect with each other using games and messaging apps and they're using their devices 3-4 hours per day for school. The very second they finish school they want to go on YouTube or Roblox or Messenger. It's ALL they want. They get very, very annoyed when they can't have it. And we, as their parents, quite like our tech as well - so we can't be total hypocrites and use our phones and PC's if they're not allowed to too.
Yet, on the other hand, I've seen the effects of this tech on kids. It makes them angry, lacking in concentration, impatient, vulnerable to exploitation, and in many cases very dull. The kids I know who use a lot of tech do not seem to be able to play imaginatively, for example, or hold a short conversation with an adult.
The only parents I know who have successfully navigated this with their kids have had HARDLINE "no screen time" rules for their tweens. These parents are with their kids constantly, invariably doing outdoor activities. This seems to require a very high (almost impossible) level of commitment from their parents. It's like you have to be a perfect parent to be even remotely successful at steering your kids away from screen addiction. I can't meet that standard, I'm busy, I'm trying to juggle the needs of our whole family and our respective employers.

I feel like I'm between a rock and a hard place. Our compromise, allowing our kids to play games (Roblox, usually, sometimes Minecraft) between 5pm and 6pm and letting them go to a very tech-friendly school still means they're on devices 3-5 hours a day!!! and we are strict when compared to our peers.

It sounds like you’ve found a balance that works for your family. So maybe there’s no problem? One of the arguments we make in the book is that the anxiety about how you manage screen time can cause more problems than screen time itself.

SoniaLivingstone Thu 20-Aug-20 21:07:08

fascinated

Lots of schoolwork videos on YouTube, so that you can’t just block it.so you’re left trying to police your child watching fun stuff instead of working. Or even inappropriate stuff, or which there is plenty. Just giving them screens and devices isn’t the answer - adults need to monitor and facilitate. Dread to think the kind of stuff kids just “left with an iPad” have been seeing...

I agree that the blocking technologies are too crude, and it’s unsatisfactory to either provide your child with total access to a website, or block it entirely. Obviously it depends on the age of your child, but there’s lots that parents can do in relation to what you call “facilitate.“ Some of it can be done while the child is accessing the website, but lots can be done before: talking to them about what they might see, or what they would do if they saw something problematic, or how you yourself deal with content that you find an appropriate. Also important, and supported by lots of research, is building the kind of trusting relationship where, if your child to see something worrying, don’t feel confident they can come to you and that you won’t punish them for it. Which I’m sure you wouldn’t! We do try to suggest alternatives to the idea of “policing “your child, though I agree that sometimes the content itself could be better policed. Do the teachers at your child’s school suggest YouTube as a source of school work videos? If so, perhaps they could also share the load in terms of guiding children to be safe.

fascinated Tue 25-Aug-20 11:11:15

Thanks — I hadn’t realised you’d answered as it dropped off Threads I’m on and no Tag notification

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