How should parents raise their children in a digital era?

How should parents raise their children in a digital era?

This essay is based on a cartoon in which you see an infant trapped in his box with a computer, while you see two people walking in the corridor next to it.

The cartoon raises a critical question: is it good for parents to just put a computer in the box where the child sleeps? Since many parents are do not have any knowledge about how to raise their children together with the internet, they choose to just put a computer in the box and let the child find out for himself, instead of the parents teaching about using computers and the internet. The point of view for parents is understandable. When I grew up in the good old 90’s, my parents didn’t teach me anything about what a computer is and how I could use the internet. I had to figure everything out by myself and learned how to use a computer. For me as a young person, it is more easy to learn and figure out new things, instead of for my parents who are still having problems with how to raise the volume of the computer and how to set the settings for a wireless adapter. This makes it a bit more understandable why parents let their children figure out everything by themselves on the internet. But isn’t this a bit naive?  When I grew up and used computers, most of the time I didn’t use the internet because at these times you still had to use phone lines to connect to the internet. Also the internet was way less developed than it is today. In this year 2013, the internet is everywhere around us and there are more ways to access it. Computers have gotten better, Smartphone’s, tablets etc where invented, the internet has developed and more people are using the internet.

In the cartoon there is also another thing noticeable. The child is locked in the box with the computer and the two people that are walking along don’t seem to take care of its child. It gives a bit the impression: “You know how to figure how you can use computers and the internet and we don’t have to take care of you.” But is this the right way to raise a child? Before we look at some ways to raise children with social media, we will take a look at some basic needs of children.

Erik Allardt’s (1993) classification of individual human needs

  • material needs (‘Having’)
  • non-material needs:
  1. social needs (‘Loving’)
  2. needs related to personal development (‘Being’)

In most countries in Europe, the percentage of children that has access to the internet is high. Having or not having a connection to the internet says something about the social economic status of the family. If the child doesn’t have a connection to the internet at home, he can have the feeling that he is left out.

Besides having things, parents should also let it know to their children that they love them. This is something that seems to fade away in this era where children spend a lot of time on the computer. But it would be good to sometimes get away from the computer and do some human things like making dinner together or some other activity people can do together. Also, one of the main role of parents is related to personal development of a child. As a parent you are raising your child an you want your child to develop itself. Talking, steering and corrective behaviour are good things to do that. Sometimes it is necessary for a parent to get a child away from the computer and let it explore the real world, instead of the digital world. The world has much beauty and awesome things to explore, so letting your child explore only the digital world is a form of laziness and makes that one is letting its child miss out on things.

There are some major problems that are caused by internet usage. As (Siibak, 2013), presentation 6 slide 13 says:

Excessive time spent online has been deemed to influence several aspects of the lives of youths:

  • declining school results or even dropping out of school;
  • abandoning hobbies;
  • psychological problems (depression, anxiety, low self-esteem);
  • social consequences (isolation and increased family tension).

As we can see, too much time on the internet is not good. It slows down the personal, social development of children. They might be talking online with friends, playing online games with lots of other people and chatting with them, using Facebook to talk with people, etc. But if they go in a bar, some of them as I know of my personal experience are too afraid to talk with people they don’t know. They are thinking too much about bad things that can happen and prefer to stay in their safe environment where there is a computer screen and people cannot see their true feelings and emotions. Their self esteem is too low to talk with strangers. Too much time on the internet is also bad for relations within the family. A brother of a good friend of me is always on his computer and only talks with the rest of the family during dinner. His parents don’t seem to know what he is doing online and it is often a reason for a argument that sometimes don’t ends in a nice way.

Another problem is that using the internet takes a lot of time which can also be used for other hobbies. One of my close friends for example spends all his free time on the internet and if I ask him what his hobbies are, he tells me: gaming. He only goes out of the house to school which he is also failing because of gaming and sometimes he has a party where he drinks some beers, but that’s about it. I think that this is too bad. We live in a world with so many things to explore and so many activities we can do. By only staying in your own house and exploring the digital world, you are restraining yourself and are not likely to know how beautiful and awesome the world out of your house is.

Though, everybody is free to raise their children in their own way, so the problems stated above are not forming any direct harm or risks for children and parents have the freedom to raise their children in this lifestyle. But there is also a whole other part of locking a child in a box together with a computer. Let us take the assumption that the parents lock their child in there because they don’t want the child to go outside into the dangerous world where so many bad things can happen, like a car accident, playground accident, having a fight with other children, getting abducted by child molesters etc. For paranoid parents, locking a child into a box with a computer seems a good way to keep the child safe because no physical harm can be done. But is it really a safe place?

The internet is like a second digital world. There are good and bad people there, companies, casino’s etc. According to (Siibak, 2013) there are some risks on the internet for children that can also influence their families. For example, a child can by cyberbullied  in many ways like:

  1. Flaming
  2. Harassment
  3. Stalking
  4. Denigration

Cyber bullying might be even easier to do than face to face bullying, because there is more distance between the two people, therefore making the risk of a punch back less likely.

Another risk of the internet is commercial exploitation, phishing,  financial scams, cheating, gambling etc. Companies have also discovered the internet and are making good use of it to make money of people, also children. A good way to prevent this to happen to your children is to talk to them about it and to monitor what they are doing on the internet

So far in this essay, mostly the bad things about the internet have been discussed. But what are opportunities and good things about the internet for this new generation?  Before we begin talking about this, it is important to know that there is a digital generation and you have to accept that it exists. Instead of turning away of this, it is good to get to know it and teach children how to use it properly. The internet has made so many things more easily. For example, now that I study in Estonia the internet has made it easy for me to see what my friend in The Netherlands are doing via facebook. I can talk with my parents and friends using skype. I can see what the news in The Netherlands is using news sites. And also I can look up information about places where I want to travel, academic materials for essays etcetera. The internet has made the world a smaller place with information much easier to access. There are many online communities that makes it more easy for people to develop themselves in their own way in terms of socialisation, creativity, self-expression etc. because on the internet you can meet many more people that think the same way you do, instead of meeting only the people in your home town and other places you might visit.

Conclusion and recommendations
Parents find it difficult to raise their children in internet usage. This is understandable because they didn’t grow up with it themselves and don’t realise the full risks and potential of the internet. This makes that the situation as we see in the cartoon might appear in reality a bit too often. But what can the parents that are in the cartoon learn from this essay? I would like to believe that parents have the role of raising their children, loving them, teaching them things about live and help them with their personal development. This is also good possible with internet usage. For example, parents can browse the web together with their children, monitor what they are doing, apply corrective behaviour if they are doing something bad, talking with their children about what they are doing both in the real world as well as online. But one of the best things to prevent that the children might get caught up to much on the web, is to set time limits. For example one or two hours of internet every day and after that to do other things. Another thing that would be good for parents to do is to take their children on trips, let them explore new things and try some hobbies instead of letting the child play videogames and browsing the web the whole day. The digital world has its opportunities and threats, but it is still only a part of the whole world we live in. Finding the balance between both worlds and teaching children how to deal with them is one of the main challenges for today’s and tomorrow’s parents.


Written in 2013 in Trartu, Estonia for the course Youth Culture and Social Media.