As a mother to a teenager – there are issues that keep me up at night when I think about the digital world and what our kids are exposed to these days. According to an article by the Lancet Child & Adolescent Health focusing on Technology and the Digital World: “The internet and the means to access it, such as tablets and smartphones, along with social media platforms and messaging apps, have become integral to the lives of youth around the world. They have transformed their education and learning, the way they make and maintain friendships, how they spend their leisure time, and their engagement with wider society.”
A UNICEF’s State of the World’s Children 2017: Children in a Digital World report has revealed that one in three internet users is younger than 18 years and 71% of 15–24-year-old are online, making them the most connected age group worldwide. There are definitely substantial opportunities that the digital age brings, but it also comes with a diverse range of risks and harms. Digital technologies have increased the scale of child sexual abuse and exploitation. Child sex offenders have increased access to children through unprotected social media profiles and online gaming forums. Technological advances have allowed individual offenders and trafficking rings to evade detection through encrypted platforms and the creation of false identities and have enabled them to pursue multiple victims at the same time.
Young people are not only at risk from adult exploitation; children can also obtain sexual or intimate photos of a peer and share them with or without the individual’s consent. Digital advances have meant that bullying is no longer left at the school gates; cyberbullying is a new method for bullies to hurt and humiliate their victims with the click of a button. Words and images posted online that are designed to cause harm are also difficult to delete, increasing the risk of re-victimisation.
These issues covered in this report are the ones that keeps us parents’ paranoid about the digital world. I think because I almost fall into what is referred to as the “BBT – Born Before Technology” group, as much as I understand how technology helps children to study and learn things that they would otherwise not know without it – I’m still a bit skeptical. The problem comes with understanding the limits of what our kids are exposed to. With my child, we work on a principle of trust – I give her the leeway to use technology and then trust that she will be responsible enough to know what is not good for her and make the right decisions based on the values I taught her. I add in a huge dose of prayer to go with that. There’s a conversation that I heard on Morning Live a while back between Leanne and an interviewee where they said that as parents what we do is to teach our kids the right values then hope and pray that when they are out there in the world alone – they will apply these fundamental principles.
I know that I cannot babysit my child every minute of the day when it comes to what she looks at in her phone and at some point, I need to let go and trust that she will make the right decisions. As a parent though, this doesn’t stop me from being scared because of the kind of world we live in. The lawlessness in the country alone makes it difficult to trust anything anymore. One of the biggest issues for me is bullying – this is a problem in a physical environment – when I think about the fact that our kids have to endure that in the digital space as well – it really freaks me out.
As scared as I am of the risks when it comes to technology, I also agree with the UNICEF report that “Children and adolescents have the most to gain and are most at risk from digital technologies. They must be at the forefront of national and global digital policies, not only to protect them from online harm but also to allow technology to help them fulfill their full potential.” I think that our role as parents is to have these ongoing conversations with our children and discuss the potential risks so that they can look out for these. It is clear that technology is not going anywhere – instead, it is advancing every day and that it does have a great deal of benefits, but we still need to be cautious because there are unfortunately still a lot of opportunistic predators out there.