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Parenting in the Digital Age: A Guide to Our Top Tooled Up Resources

Every day, we’re surrounded by the ubiquity of digital technologies – whether it’s social media, the work zoom call or numerous entertainment channels on our phones, tablets and TVs. The pandemic has only accelerated the process of omnipresent digitalisation and lockdowns led to many of our children spending more time in the online world than the offline one. Building digital resilience, in ourselves and our children, is becoming more important than ever.

Did you know that the Tooled Up library contains a multitude of resources on all sorts of different topics relating to digital literacy and resilience? 

Whether you need help deciding when your child is ready for their first smartphone, would like some inspiration for starting conversations on internet safety or want advice if you suspect your teen might be sexting, we’ve got you covered!

Getting Started

You have probably heard of, or are already using, parental controls. These features can be installed within digital devices and software to allow parents to restrict children’s access to particular features, sites or topics. They are a helpful start in keeping young people safe from potentially harmful or disturbing content. If you need advice about setting them up or would like to find out what apps and tools are out there, take a look at our article, which lays out detailed instructions for installing, configuring and using parental controls on various widely used devices and operating systems.

Remember, parental controls aren’t infallible! 

Whilst they can help to ensure that your child has a safer online experience, it’s impossible to entirely shield them from potentially viewing, or being sent, inappropriate content once they’re online. This is why it’s also crucial to establish open, regular communication about digital life with our children. If you have younger children, our Internet Safety Conversation Starters can encourage conversations around critical thinking, fact-checking and online safety. For older children, our 50 Questions to Ask Your Teen about Their Digital Diet will enable you to kickstart discussions.

If you feel that you need some more general information on these topics before initiating a chat with your child, we have plenty of resources available. Take a look at 50 Things to Consider if Your Child Uses Social Media or tune into our interview with Professor Sonia Livingstone OBE, one of the foremost experts on children’s engagement with the digital world. She discusses screen time, children’s use of smartphones and the place of digital technology in families today. It will give you a superb overview of this field, we promise.

Your Child’s First Phone

In 2021, 63% of children in the UK, aged 3-17 had their own mobile phone, almost all of which were smartphones. Most children are given a phone between the ages of 9 and 11, and nearly all 11 year olds (91%) now own their own mobile phone. While smartphones offer many opportunities, we know that access to the digital world does expose children to various risks. So, if you’d like some help in making this important decision, read our resource on Buying Your Child Their First Phone. Having a strong set of family guidelines or household rules around phone use can also act as a protective factor and allowing children to have input in establishing these is likely to be beneficial. If you need some inspiration, our Parent-Child Phone Contract might help. Make sure that the entire family agrees on the terms and responsibilities before giving your child their own phone.

Pornography: There is No Way Around it Anymore

“Never before have we brought up a generation of boys who are a click away from viewing free hard-core mainstream pornography or girls who are growing up in this pornified culture.” 

Sociologist, Gail Dines, Pornified, 2010

Pornography is understandably a rather unpleasant and awkward topic for many parents to contemplate discussing with their teens. However, awkward conversations are much better than no conversations and we need to talk more about this, despite the discomfort. Many children are viewing porn as a means to learn about sex (find out more about teens viewing porn in our list of 40 key facts). Research shows that porn can contribute to feelings of shame, misogyny and insecurity, and convey unhealthy messages to young people about intimate relationships. We need to meet their healthy curiosity with age-appropriate information, get our heads out of the sand and make it clear to children that this topic is not off limits.

We’ve talked to leading experts about parents’ concerns about:

 

Sexting: What You Need to Know

We also have a suite of resources that focus on sexting (the sending, receiving or forwarding of sexually explicit images, photographs or images). Despite the fact that sexting under the age of 18 is illegal, research shows that around 14% of young people in the UK have taken or shared a naked or semi-naked picture of themselves, and it is thought that this practice increased further during lockdowns. We know that scaring teens off by telling them sexting is illegal doesn’t seem to work. Education and communication are more effective strategies. Teens must be fully aware of the potential consequences of sexts before they decide to send one, or worse, feel pressured into doing so. It’s a good idea to discuss the realities of sharing images with your teen and agree on some sensible promises. Why not use our suggestions as starting points? If you feel like you need to arm yourself with a bit of knowledge first, take a look at our 25 interesting facts about sexting.

Remember, without sensible and realistic chats, there is no barrier between teens and these impulsive decisions, which they may later regret. Our resources are designed to prompt teens to consider how they might respond to a request for a sext and to weigh up the pros and cons. Finding out that your teen may be sexting is likely to feel shocking and upsetting, but it’s important to remain calm, empathetic and supportive. Whilst we don’t want our teens to send nude or semi-nude images and videos, they should know that, if they do, and something does go wrong, support is available. If your teen has sent an intimate photo or video and now wishes they hadn’t, read our tips on how to support them and point them to our guide to regaining control if sexting goes wrong.

Social Media: Friend or Foe?

If you are worried about the impact that social media might be having on young people’s mental health, you’re not alone! 

Over the past decade, researchers have been exploring links between social media use and wellbeing and findings suggest quite consistently that heavy use of social media is associated with poorer mental health. However, with the right approach, the digital landscape can offer an abundance of opportunities. Our video on this topic, created after many Tooled Up parents got in touch with concerns, highlights key research evidence, current facts and figures and the importance of digital hygiene. 

To dig deeper into this complex area, we’ve spoken to numerous brilliant experts. Professor Tracey Wade, an internationally renowned academic, has, for instance, spoken with us twice about the links between social media, low body image and disordered eating behaviours. This podcast and webinar are great places to find out more about why cultivating a positive body image is so crucial and what brand new research shows about the role of social media.

Among all types of online platforms, YouTube seems to be the most widely used by children old and young. If your child watches YouTube, they may well have a favourite ‘kidfluencer’, a young influencer who earns money directly from YouTube or from the manufacturers whose products they promote. Much of the marketing that children are exposed to is not explicit or obvious like the ad break on TV. Adverts are often cleverly embedded into the video’s content, presented conversationally by influencers who children tend to view as authentic, honest, friendly and relatable. To find out more about the impact of influencer culture and embedded marketing on children, we invited Professor Livingstone and Dr Miriam Rahali to the podcast to talk about their recent report.

Online bullying

Shockingly, cyberbullying impacts up to 75% of all children by the time they leave secondary school (either as perpetrator, victim or bystander). Researcher of the Month, Dr Larisa McLoughlin, recently spoke to us about how social connectedness can act as a protective factor against cyberbullying’s negative impact on mental health and wellbeing. If this is an area that interests you, why not also listen to our podcast episode on problematic social media use and cyberbullying, or learn more about online risks for vulnerable children?

Building Digital Resilience

Let’s not forget that the digital landscape is a magnificent and critical resource in our children’s lives. With careful parenting, and by having frequent conversations which prompt them to consider their digital life, your child will flourish in this environment. It’s vital to get them thinking! Are they conscious that future employers may look up their social media profiles and try to learn more about them from their digital footprint? Are they aware that they should monitor how social media makes them feel and unsubscribe from anything that is worsening their mental health or affecting their self-esteem? Do they understand the need to fact-check and think critically about the things they see online? Why not get started by discussing your digital values as a family, using our Family Digital Values resource.

One final thing. If gaming feels like a battleground in your home, we’ve got some top tips to help ensure that it is a fun and beneficial part of your child’s life and not a source of conflict. You might also like to listen to our interview with family technology expert Andy Robertson, which focuses on the positive learning opportunities that games can offer and optimal ways to engage with children about their digital world.

 

We hope that our resources enrich your understanding and help you to future-proof your child. If you feel like we’re missing anything or if you’d like to know more on a specific topic area, please do not hesitate to contact us. You can email us at research@tooledupeducation.com or simply call 020 (3) 951 8828.

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