Research has identified a number of ways parents resort to mediate their children’s digital media use. This post presents a summary of these common approaches – some more liberal than others – to allow readers of this blog, some of you parents, to compare, perhaps re-think your own ways. This post also aims to invite those of you who may not fit in any of these categories but could suggest alternatives. Finally, this post is about creating awareness that parental mediation should aim to move from risk to resilience, not by avoiding and forbidding digital media technologies but through conversation, emotional support and discovering together – parent and child.
Parental mediation, based on global evidence
- restricted – parents restrict, limit or ban altogether use;
- enabling – parents are more likely to encourage some type of use, discuss threats and opportunities, and manage use either through the use of monitoring or technical control.
- mediation carried out by the technology itself – parents may assume that certain technologies come with their regulations, filters, safety and restrictive options.
While research shows that restrictive mediation does lead to less risks, it can also lead to less opportunities afforded by digital media technologies. On the other hand, enabling mediation – talking to children, discovering the various possibilities for learning, making and exploration with them – can lead to more opportunities, digital skills, and yes, more risk.
Focus on learning
Learning takes place when a child interacts with her environment – parents, peers, teachers, toys, things, digital media, through and on the Internet and so on. While children can encounter risks even at home while walking down a staircase or reaching for the pot of boiling water, a distinction must be made between risk and actual harm. At the presence of certain kinds of risks children can build resilience and learn along the way.
Parents, educators and other professionals should also re-think the role of children’s agency in their interactions with their environments. Such interactions are key to learning. In fact, today we talk about participatory learning that is enquiry-based, entails play (a good read: Gee, 2007), exploration and experimentation (see also Papert, 1980 and 1993).
Beware of the risks
While regulatory measures for protection of children online must be in place – albeit still difficult to implement – parents still have a role to play in creating awareness of the potential risks that children can encounter online. Since parents cannot anticipate or know of all the risk one can encounter online, they can communicate and even explore and learn together with children the various aspects of digital media environments, platforms, tools, communities, users, situations. Just like when talking about stuff children might bump into on the street, while playing in the neighborhood, or while commuting.
From risk to resilience
A study conducted among primary school children in Malta looked at the factors that predicted children with social, emotional and behaviour difficulties (SEBD). Those children most likely to experience SEBD:
- are poorly engaged in classroom activities…
- have poor relationships with peers, and lack support from close friends;
- attend classrooms where pupils exhibit poor play behaviour and low sense of community;
- show behaviour difficulties at home, including problematic relationships with siblings, and come from families with low parental academic expectations, little family time, and where the father is either poorly skilled or unemployed (Cefai & Camilleri, 2011, p. 182)
While poor relations with parents, peers and teachers can predict social, emotional and behaviour difficulties, the opposite can predict a child’s prosocial behaviour and the ability to build resilience. Now translate this in relation to children’s engagements online.
In other words, building strong relationships with children, as a parent or as an educator, is the first step to helping them build resilience when it comes to their online activities, explorations and engagements. Then social and emotional competence interlinks with better academic performance.
Resilience building where children learn to exert more control over their lives, believe in their ability to bring about change in their own lives, learn to solve problems effectively, and have an optimistic outlook on life (Seligman, 1998, in Cefai &Camilleri, 2011, p. 193).
It’s all in the details
Creating awareness of the potential risks doesn’t mean we should say “be careful” or “you’re not allowed” (even if they are, the least children deserve is some kind of explanation). The more detailed statements parents make, the more light is shed over the various potential risks. While the list can be endless these suggestions can work on pretty much everything, from the pot of boiling water, to the advert on a billboard, to a video on YouTube.
- Do you notice…how the picture is positioned…; where the text is placed…what words they used to describe…who wrote…who said…when this happened;
- Can you tell if this is true or not…if a person wrote it/filmed it/created it;
- Let’s figure out…try to use…this website for school information…this platform for watching videos…this software for making games…this site for contacting a friend;
- What do they say: research…media…friends…creators…users…
- How do you feel when…
- What would you do…if you have an Instagram, a blog, a vlog; discuss subjects, ideas, projects, content;
- Where would you upload…these pictures, videos, writing, audio;
- Where would you download…audio-visual content; discuss various channels that provide legal, illegal material; paid material (e.g. Netflix); discuss how various platforms run algorithms to offer content based on users’ consumption/profile;
- Where would you find help…sign out…customise settings…allocate privacy settings…switch off location;
- What kinds of things your friends love…have seen…talked about…do…like…go online;
- What kinds of tools can you use to create a blog… a video… a project… a game; explore one together.
This list can be endless. The objective is to create communication by talking about various details – from the medium to the message; from the audience/the user to the creator/the provider.