Ever since Cronus the Titan tried to swallow his son Zeus, parents have feared being supplanted by their children. (It didn’t take.) But it’s only in the last few generations, as the rate of technological progress has accelerated, that children have grown up in a world significantly different from the one their parents knew, and it’s only very recently that parents have seen their surpass them while they were still in the single digits. Thanks to digital media, the world is changing so rapidly today – consider that five years ago there was no Twitter, ten years ago no Facebook and fifteen years ago no Google – that even those of us who spent our childhoods programming our parents’ VCRs can feel left behind.
While the last generation of parents could safely abdicate responsibility for setting the clocks on household gadgets, though, today’s parents have no such option: thanks to the interactive nature of digital media, children online face unprecedented risks and responsibilities. As fluent, confident and technically savvy as kids are, they still need to be taught to engage critically with the media they consume and to make safe, wise and ethical decisions online. As essential as these skills are, it’s easy for parents to feel as though they’re out of their depth in trying to teach them to their kids. Children often feel the same way, and not just about technical issues: in a 2010 study by the UK organization Get Connected, ninety percent of youth surveyed reported having used the Web to find help in solving a personal problem versus a third who had turned to their mothers and only five percent who had gone to their fathers. Sensationalistic portrayals of the online world, in both fiction and journalism, can give parents an exaggerated and inaccurate view of just what risks and challenges their youth are likely to encounter. Even parents who are determined to take an active role in their kids’ online lives may be overwhelmed by the options: should they use content filters on their computers, or install spy software that lets them read what their children are saying online? Should they Friend their kids on Facebook, or threaten their children with “digital grounding”? Even tech-savvy parents face the question of how to be a good role model while being a slave to the Blackberry or the iPhone.
Fortunately, parents now have a guide to help them teach their kids those important lessons: Alice, the host of Media Awareness Network’s new interactive Web-based resource e-Parenting Tutorial: Keeping up with your kids’ online activities.
Alice uses her children’s online activities as an opportunity to teach parents about the issues facing kids when they do research and homework on the Internet, when they communicate and socialize online, when they encounter inappropriate content and when they are the targets of online marketers – as well as how to tell if the Internet is taking up too much of their time. Each of these topics is covered in a separate module that includes interactive questions for parents, printable tipsheets and advice from experts as well as from Alice herself. The tutorial also gives parents a tool for developing household Internet rules and to directly contact Media Awareness Network experts with any questions not covered.
Parenting has always been a challenge, but e-Parenting just got a little bit easier.