Digital Negligence – where are the parents?

It's a strong term isn’t it, negligence, we have a social care system that protects the rights of children to be free of sexual, emotional, physical harm and neglect. Is it time for us to also place onto this list…. A child has a right to be free from digital harm?

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The online world is often referred to as the Wild West where there are no laws, which is true, there are no actual regulations or accountability, at the moment, there is a bill going through the UK at the moment called the Online Harms White paper, which looks to address these issues.

Governments can offer guidance, standards and laws but parents need not wait for a government directive on the potential harms, it does not take a lot to know that there is a lot of risk you are exposing your child to with unsupervised use of the internet, pedophiles being one but what seems to be really hurting our children en-masse is the use of devices, well into the night. In recent discussions with colleagues in the teaching profession it is clear that our children are suffering, they do not get any where near enough sleep, if they sleep it is of poor quality mainly due to the use of devices late into the evening.

Colleagues share that they are spending an inordinate amount of time dealing with Whats App group chats that become abusive, all happening at 10pm up until 12pm. Whats App has a 16 year age limit, all these children are in primary school. I have spoken to year 4 children, eight and nine year olds, who when asked, 90% said they had trouble sleeping, then one child went further and asked “why did someone in this class text them at 3am in the morning”, and another said “they watched someone die on Youtube”. This in my opinion is parental digital neglect. The impact of lack of sleep on a child’s behaviour, mental health and well being is well documented from mood swings to irritation, lack of concentration, lack of sleep is a form of torture – ask any parent of a new born.

We are allowing a whole plethora of poor standards, is this good enough? Do we feel as a society we are doing enough to support, care and most importantly protect our children in this modern world of computers and on-line living.

It is not parenting to say “oh well everyone else is doing it”, as parents we are the ones who should be saying just because X wants to jump off a cliff, do you? But rather we are the lemmings just jumping off the cliff into the abyss of the world wide web. As parents I feel we need to support each other, to band together to use the ability to connect easily to agree bedtimes and turn off our internet connecton if need be, if we as the parents step up to our role and create reasonable limits, with all the appropriate guidance and do this in a respectful way - that includes the children in the decision making process, but they do not lead that process. Then we can have the tech but not without the responsibility rather than seeing it as a free babysitting service and making our lives easier in the short term it actually asks us to be more responsible, which is fine, it just needs an actual acknowledgement of that fact and us getting on with it.

I did that thing lots of parents do, I handed down my old iphone when I got my upgrade and gave it to my then 8 year old daughter, she was over the moon, best birthday present ever. Then after a couple of weeks I realized I had made a really big mistake, I had started doing more research and found out how much of a negative impact on the brain screen usage had on everyone particularly the frontal cortex – prolonged use shrinks this part of our brain and as a child this is the part you are growing and the area of the brain that understands non verbal communication (of which about 80% of communication is) is actually not growing as big as it has for possibly centuries, this is an actual evolution change, I can not see that being an actually evolutionary improvement rather a devolution, the impact of which could be really catastrophic.

So I had to ‘Parent Up’, I went to her and said “I am really sorry but I have made a mistake, I shouldn’t have given you the phone, I have done lots of research and it is all saying it harms your brain growth and we don’t know the long term impact.” She was furious with me, and it lasted days, and then something happened she asked to learn how to knit and I taught her and she knitted her own scarf. As a parent we are role models, I role modeled here that it was ok to change your mind when you have new information and that sometimes the things we enjoy are causing us harm and we need to moderate these. In her case she was still having access to the adults devices at different times but it felt really important that she did not have her own phone that she had unfretted access to.

 So this is a call out to parents to ‘Parent Up’ and society to back parents with the required regulations of the social media giants, for parents to back other parents to become the adults and make the hard immediate choices that have the long term gains. Our children need us like never before, as one piece of research showed our children are the safest they have ever been physically but are the most depressed and suicidal.  We can change that statistic but it requires us to do a 180 or even 360-degree turnaround with our relationship with technology and childhood. 

Vanessa McHardy

With 17 years experience of supporting children and parents I have a very practical, light, compassionate way of being that enables healing of trauma and difficult feelings.

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