Digital Media Vs Parents: Who Holds The Power?

Why The Digital Age Makes Parenting Harder

Digital Media Vs Parents: Who Holds The Power?

Over the past couple of years I have witnessed an interesting and frightening trend occurring in families. It appears to have little relevance to socioeconomics and is having a devastating and potentially, irreversible effect on our youth and the generations to come. It influences the interaction our young people have with nearly every single challenge they face. What is this mystery phenomenon?

It is a generation of parents admitting powerlessness and defeat over their children’s access to digital media. The consequence; digital media, whether it be television or the internet, is now having a greater influence on our children than we are, as parents.

Just in the past week I have had different parents say to me ‘I give up! It’s just what they do! It’s their reality! They say that their friends’ parents don’t restrict their access!’ These statements, although seemingly harmless, have implications that are terrifying.

In the past, when young people, usually in their teens, were going off the rails, I would assure parents that they had been the greatest influence in their child’s lives and this would hold a lot of weight in the way their child would overcome the adversity they were facing. The morals and ethics instilled within them in those precious formative years would ultimately guide them. Unfortunately the tide is rapidly starting to turn.

Children are now returning home from school to spend hours in front of digital media, largely the internet, as opposed to time spent with their families or playing with their peers. Some may argue that they are socialising with their peers online and there is some merit in this, if monitored.

I think the vast majority of parents would agree that it is a very different world that our young people are growing up in. What I struggle to understand is how that changes our role as parents so dramatically.

I urge you to recall your own upbringing. As a child of the 70’s my parents were dealing with the relatively new introduction of television and the aftermath of the 60’s sexual revolution. Irrespective of this, there was no T.V in the afternoons and you were shoved out the door to play with your friends or, in my case carted off, in protest, to ballet. Curfew was at 6pm and if you were so much as five minutes late you would stand out the front of the house pondering whether it was worth going home at all! Meal times were shared at the dining table with the whole family and the television was never allowed on at this time. This was a time of connecting with your family, discussing the day and current issues and an opportunity for Dad to hit you with a random spelling test. If your homework and jobs were completed, you may have had the luxury of a little T.V but more often that not that was a treat left for ‘Hey Hey it’s Saturday’ on the weekend.

Why is it that the introduction of social and digital media is rendering an entire generation of parents powerless over the influence they have within their own homes? It seems that the more we come to understand the detrimental effects that unsupervised internet access is having on our children, the more defeated we are. I am not naive enough to suggest that we return to the 70’s but surely many of the same principles still apply. They being, that in the best interests of the child, the parent still has the say over what goes on under their roof.

Imposing clear boundaries and limitations around the amount of time spent on the internet and making sure it balances out with a healthy amount of time spent interacting and conversing with the family, is paramount.

As a social scientist and a Mother of four teenagers I can’t help but be slightly consumed by the study of the complexities of this trend. The deeper I delve, the greater my belief is that the damage to our children is predominantly occurring as a consequence of the amount of time they are spending on the internet as opposed to the content they are viewing. I say this for several reasons and certainly not because I don’t believe the content is disturbing.

As mentioned earlier I believe that parents and the family need to be the greatest influence throughout the developmental stage of a young person. Quite simply put, if they are spending more time in front of digital media than interacting with their family, how can this be the case? Furthermore, if a young person sees something that is disturbing, immoral and unethical within their digital world and they have a solid set of principals instilled within them from home, these foundations will invariably cause them to consciously, or at times, subconsciously, challenge whether what they are seeing is right or wrong. If this grounding is not there, digital media has a greater chance of manipulating and dominating your child’s thinking.

What better example than the recent media focus on young people and the frightening new sexual norm that is seeing young girls present at hospitals and medical centres with injuries as they attempt to mimic pornography. Many young boys are now viewing porn as the benchmark for sexual interaction, placing pressure on very young girls to engage in aggressive and self-denigrating sexual acts. As parents, the only way to combat this trend and the myriad of others bombarding our children, is by being aware of the issues at hand, positive role modeling and constant interaction regarding the issues facing our youth. When I discuss restricting digital media access with parents, they often respond by saying that they don’t want the fight and they give in.

Like anything, if the boundaries are well established, early on, and there is no room for negotiation, there is no argument. Children grow up with an understanding of what’s acceptable and expected in their home. The onus then is on the parent to ensure they take the time to connect with their children whilst they are at home. In my experience there is no better way to do this than around the dinner table or preparing a meal together.

I have also found, over the years, that holidays are well spent in areas where there is no internet connection. For 2 weeks every September we still go camping as a family to a place that is off the grid. The endless conversations around the fire, the laughter, the sharing, the adventure, forms an understanding and a bond between us that is unmatched by anything.

As my children head into adulthood, my anxieties about all they have to face can be overwhelming, to say the least. The only thought that brings me comfort, at times, is the knowledge that they have had a solid cementation of sound values, morals and ethics. This can only happen through time spent and constant engagement. Furthermore, I believe that we owe it to our children to provide them with an opportunity to have a break from the constant demands of social media and online interaction. It must be exhausting! As parents we are at war and it’s a war that we simply cannot afford to lose!

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Written by Jules Allen

Jules Allen is a former MasterChef contestant and a single mother with four children who has been a foster mother to 29 children over the past 15 years.

Jules considers herself as an ‘earth mother’. With four kids: two sons, Jay and Ishy (16 and 17), daughters Elisha (21) and India (18). Her family is a blend of her own, adopted and foster children.

The importance of good food in healing damaged lives is paramount to Jules, and she does this by raising awareness through school talks around the country and encouraging the next generation to do what they can to make a difference.

Jules is an ambassador for Meals On Wheels - an organisation legendary across Australia for its work in providing nutritious meals on a daily basis to those in need.

Her contribution to foster care and child protection, her charity work for many organisations, including helping rebuild Women’s and Children’s refuge in the Soloman Islands, and her ambassador roles for National Adoption Awareness, Foster Care Australia, the Pjama Foundation and Brookfarm, were recently recognised by the ABC’s Australian Story, who featured an in- depth story on Jules’ dedication, commitment and contribution to many deserving charities.

She has just launched her Waccii Nurturing Tea company, with all profits supporting Waccii (Women’s and Children’s Care Initiative Incorporated).

Jules Allen is a contributing Parent expert for The Carousel.

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