You switch on the evening news and the feature story is dedicated to condemning some new app you haven’t heard of. You go for coffee with a friend who tells you about a colleague of theirs whose child had to go to rehab for Internet Gaming Disorder. You see a newspaper headline boldly claiming that the latest social media sensation is a ‘playground for predators’.
If you’re a parent raising a child in the digital age, you probably find yourself inundated with things to worry about. You probably feel anxious about trying to keep up with these risks and protect your child… Perhaps you even find yourself occasionally fantasising about a permanent relocation to a remote rural area with no Internet connection?
The blogs we write here at Wangle Family Insites aren’t intended to fuel parents’ fears and create a state of panic. Rather, we are committed to providing parents with evidence-based information on existing and emerging risks, and expert advice on how to handle them proactively. In the interest of transparency, we feel it’s important to remind parents that - while it’s all too easy to get caught up in a media frenzy - sometimes the most pertinent risks our children face when they’re using technology are the ones that don’t cultivate moral panic. In fact, many of the most publicised risks are more rare than you’d think.
In this article we will take a closer look at top parent concerns regarding children and technology, and compare it to what children are worried about. However, it’s important for us to acknowledge that we’re discussing top parent concerns in a fairly broad capacity. There are, of course, numerous factors which contribute to top parent concerns, such as the child’s: age, race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and whether or not they experience physical or learning difficulties.
Of all the threats that modern technology presents us with, perhaps the most alarming of all is the fact that these risks are constantly subject to change. It seems as if, for every exciting new technological innovation designed to connect us and make our lives better, safer, and easier, there’s someone, somewhere, figuring out how it can be exploited in order to perpetrate harm. Due to the rapidity with which these threats emerge, parents are often forced to rely on public coverage of a problem for it to land on their radar. Unfortunately, there are many risks being sensationalised by the media, and many legitimate concerns which fail to spark media attention.
For example, a lot of parents are deeply fearful of online predators. While online grooming is a deeply insidious and widespread problem, it happens less often than the media would have you believe. It’s still undoubtedly an issue worth being informed about, and one which every parent should take proactive measures to prevent, but it can often act as a decoy for more pervasive issues related to technology, such as sleep deprivation, eye strain, and musculoskeletal issues caused by poor posture and ergonomic practices.
In 2017 the University of Michigan conducted a poll, asking parents of children aged 0 to 18 about their top parent concerns. The results showed that:
61% are worried about bullying/cyberbullying
60% are worried about insufficient exercise
55% are worried about Internet safety
45% are worried about suicide
44% are worried about depression
43% are worried about stress
Click here for more information and to view the report.
These top parent concerns are more than justified. However, it’s important to recognise that there is a distinction between which risks parents are most worried about, and which risks are most likely to impact their children (and also which risks are actually affecting and worrying their children).
Andy Phippen conducted a report in 2018 entitled ‘What causes young people upset online’. According to the findings of this report, young people are most worried about the following:
Seeing or receiving abusive comments online
Witnessing videos or imagery depicting animal cruelty
Being exposed to graphic news media (e.g. terrorist attacks, suicide stories, acts of violence, natural disasters)
Upsetting content (e.g. people being hurt, acts of self-harm)
Being bystanders to bullying
Unwanted contact & being asked personal questions about age, sex, or location
Hacking or having their personal information shared without permission