Digital Parenting — what should I be concerned about?

You switch on the evening news and the feature story is dedicated to condemning some new app you haven’t heard of. You see a newspaper headline claiming that the latest social media sensation is a ‘playground for predators’ and your friends seem to constantly complain about the challenges of managing screentime with their children without causing conflict. 

So what should you be concerned about?

It’s therefore timely that a report published in May 2019 by the Office of the eSafety Commissioner ‘Parenting in the Digital Age’ shines a light on the current concerns of 3,520 parents in Australia of children aged 2–17. 

While the majority (94%) of parents believe that their child’s online safety is important there were differences which are related to their attitudes, behaviours and needs. 

The concerns cited were similar to the results of a similar survey in 2016 apart from ‘excessive use’ which is no longer a top concern.

In 2019 the 3 most common concerns reported were:

  • Exposure to inappropriate content other than pornography (38%) 
  • Contact with strangers (37%)  
  • Being bullied online (34%)

While this data provides insights into current parents’ concerns it’s important to recognise that we’re discussing top parent concerns in a fairly broad capacity. 

There are, of course, numerous factors which contribute to parent concerns, such as the child’s: age, race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and whether or not they experience physical or learning difficulties.

Compare these with what children worry about most.

Prof Andy Phippen (UK) conducted a report in 2018 entitled ‘What causes young people upset online’.  According to the findings of this report, young people are most worried about the following:

  • Abusive comments from peers and others they interact with online
  • Stories in the news and media that can be upsetting (for example, terrorist incidents, child suffering, and natural disasters)
  • Animal abuse – videos that show animal cruelty, images of harm to animals, upsetting stories related to animals, etc.
  • Upsetting content, such as shocking videos produced by YouTubers, content showing people being hurt, acts of self-harm, etc. 

On the basis of both reports, it seems that the concerns of young people and parents are aligned.

So how and where do parents receive online safety information that will address their concerns? In the 2019 study, 95% of parents agreed that they need additional online safety information, with the most popular topics being:

  • Ways to maintain their child’s privacy online (40%)
  • How to protect their child from approaches from strangers (35%)
  • The signs and symptoms of a child experiencing negative incidents (30%)

The report found that their child’s school via the website, newsletter and presentations was the most reported source of information for parents (56%) followed by friends, family, Google searches and organisations. Supporting schools in this endeavour is clearly a very high priority if we are to meet their resourcing needs and those of the community who rely on them for evidence-informed, current and practical advice.

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