‘Controlling’ Is An Authoritarian Vision Of Digital Parenting

Sonia Livingstone is a professor of Social Psychology and former head of the Department of Media and Communications at the London School of Economics and Political Science. She is an advisor to the UK Government, European Commission, UK Parliament, and other national and international organizations. She was awarded the title of Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 2014 “for services to children and internet safety.” Being a leading voice in the digital space, she spoke to Arnika Singh, Programme Manager at Social Media Matters on Digital Parenting for a Twitter live session.

You can watch the complete live episode here:

“Across the globe conversations on digital parenting have been initiated” what is your opinion, asked Arnika.

Livingstone responded, “There’s a community that has developed around the idea of digital parenting.” Defining digital parenting, she pointed out, “It’s hard to trace the origin of the idea of digital parenting. It has become quite dominant for the past 10 – 15 years probably. The kind of digital world we live in which is logical, complex, opaque, not very child focused. It is everything parents had always wanted to do. In many ways the digital world is less parent – child focused than the offline world. So, it becomes a challenge for them.”

According to Arnika, “Parenting is full of challenges, be it offline or in the digital world. Technology leading to social alienation apart from coming up with opportunities.” Livingstone added, “Opportunities perceived lead to benefits. And risks are not meant possibly to harm but to be faced. Children need to learn to be resilient by encountering a certain degree of risk. Although not too much beyond their capacity. So parents go through double injunctions. Keep your child at edge with the latest technology, as well as monitor your child when they are using the devices.” She also shared about her new book on hopes and fears about technology shaping the lives of children.

Arnika emphasized, “Parents are trying to find a box strategy that will work for their children. But certainly that’s not the case. Every parent – child relationship works differently. For every family you have to develop your own solution and communication to get the message through.”

One being asked about how digital mentoring will help parents, Livingstone opined, “I don’t want to be against technology. We’re giving parents an impossible challenge to limit screen time as this is the age of digital technology. It’s not just entertainment, its learning, information, work, health and lifestyle. Technology is already a fundamental part of our lives.” Whereas, mentoring children in relation to technology is not really celebrated. Support children towards developing more wiser and purposeful efforts towards engaging with technology. On the other hand, technology is not everything. One of the things we learnt during COVID – 19, is that there is life beyond technology and children are learning the value of in person relationships. Parents have to guide their children on how to maintain balance of activities offline and online. It’s important for parents to learn the art of mentoring over monitoring. Controlling children from the use of technology will make them more secretive and they must be involved in discussions on safety of technology.

“66 million Children in India are accessing technology on their devices”

Arnika at the end stressed on ‘values’ and ‘relationships’, “Values and relationships that are taught reflect in a child's behavior. Like, while growing up most things I learnt was by looking up to my parents. I think that’s very important and critical. This at times is lost in the debates and discourses.”

In her concluding remarks about controlling influence of technology –with regard to messages for parents, mentors and caregivers, Livingstone shared, “I’m very sympathetic to the anxieties the parents feel. There are so many challenges. Family philosophy and a sense of values could be pursued. And it’s very crucial to all the families that they really listen to their children. If parents listen more to the kids then, they can be more positive and enthusiastic about their interests. Children need to be encouraged.” She concluded, “Control always brings disaster. Restrictions lead to resistance. Parents can find ways to support their children and live out their parenting philosophy. It’s not going to be easy but I think it’s worth trying.”

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