Parental Accountability in Today’s Onlife World – Yup, We Are Going There!

April 19, 2024

CAVEAT:  The inspiration for this blog post came from an incident we witnessed today while we were out in our community. As we passed by an elementary school, we noticed a cluster of five young girls, seemingly in the third or fourth grade, gathered in the center of the school playground huddled in a circle. Among them, one girl was engrossed in scrolling through what looked like a smartphone, while the other four giggled and watched intently. What were they watching, we don’t know, but the real question should be – “why was such a young person allowed to have a fully functioning smartphone without any kind of adult supervision?”

An important and justified movement is gaining traction, aiming to hold technology and social media companies legally accountable for the detrimental effects their products have on children – all while reaping billions of dollars of profits based upon our kiddo’s use of their technology and platforms. (1) While it’s evident and undeniable that these companies have a responsibility to protect our children – a responsibility they’ve willfully neglected in our view, we must also acknowledge the crucial role parents and caregivers play in scaffolding their child’s use of technology when it comes to online safety and wellbeing.

As parents and caregivers, often we are the ones who provide our children with the technology that allows them to access these platforms. We are essentially giving them the keys to the digital highway, to access every corner of the internet, both the good and the bad – factually, often we the parent or caregiver are enabling this! It’s important to recognize that these devices were never designed with youth and young teens in mind, and yet we are entrusting and gifting our kiddos with these powerful tools – much like the young girl in the caveat that spawned this blog post.

Here’s another anecdote we’d like to share – a concerned parent of an elementary student reached out to us regarding an unsettling incident involving their child at school. The principal informed this parent that their child was involved in an incident where they and a friend were browsing inappropriate content online, using an iPhone that was owned by the friend and not their child — both students were in the fourth grade! Once more, it raises the question: Why would a parent permit their fourth-grade child to have an iPhone? While there may be exceptional cases, such as children requiring iPhones for medical purposes like managing Type 1 diabetes, we argue that, apart from these exceptions, providing an elementary school-aged child with a fully operational iPhone or Android device without direct adult supervision is not in the best interest of the child.

We can share with our readers that when it comes to online predation and exploitation, the largest target group are youth under the age of 13 years who have unsupervised access to the internet. Again, what rationale do we, as parents and caregivers, have to provide or gift children under the age of 13 with an iPhone, Android phone, or any other internet-connecting device, thereby allowing unsupervised access, despite being aware of this reality?  Once again, by doing so, haven’t we become a part of the problem?

Some may argue that pointing out the role of parents and caregivers in online safety and accountability is a form of “parent blaming.” However, it’s not about placing blame, but rather about acknowledging the responsibility that comes with giving our children a device that allows them access to the internet. As parents, we have a duty of care to ensure that our children are equipped with the knowledge, skills, and age-appropriate technology to navigate the online world safely. It’s our job to be our kiddo’s best parent and not their best friend when it comes to their use of technology that was provided or gifted to them by us, the parent or caregiver – this is not the responsibility of a teacher, cellphone company, Internet service provider, or social media platform.

The excuse that technology and social media are too complicated for parents and caregivers to understand is no longer valid. With the abundance of FREE resources available, there is no reason why parents cannot take the time to educate themselves, stay informed about the latest online trends and risks, and only provide the right technology at the right age and development, which can differ from child to child (2). It’s not about NO technology, it’s all about “KNOW” technology!

So, what can parents do?

  • Educate yourself about the technology and social media platforms your children are using or have access to. This is why we wrote our free web book for parents (3) as well as other free resources that you can find on our website.

  • Set clear boundaries and rules for online behavior. Check out our “online collective agreement for families” that we have developed (4)

  • Have open and honest conversations with your child about digital literacy and online safety (5)(6)(7)

  • Consider setting up parental controls to limit access to certain content. However, it is important to remember that there is no technology on the market that is 100% effective.

  • Consider the right tech at the right time, especially for youth and younger teens.  Instead of a fully functioning iPhone or Android phone, think about a minimalist phone (8)(9).  Instead of Snapchat, Instagram, or TikTok where you have to be at least 13 years of age, consider KINZOO messenger as an alternative (10)  Instead of allowing your child on social media, get them involved in blogging, podcasting, or coding so that they become producers and creators, rather than just consumers. (11)

While technology and social media providers should indeed be held accountable, we believe that parents wield a greater influence, particularly concerning youth and younger teens and their access to technology and the internet. By implementing the measures in this article, parents and caregivers can assume a more proactive role in safeguarding their child in today’s onlife world.

It’s imperative for us as parents and caregivers to recognize our responsibility and proactively equip our children with the necessary skills and awareness to navigate the onlife world in a safer way. Let’s prioritize being our child’s best parent rather than their best friend, when it comes to scaffolding their use of technology and unmediated access to the internet!

Digital Food For Thought

The White Hatter













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