Lessons Learned: A Decade of Digital Parenting

By on Dec 28, 2019

Give yourself a high-five, parents. Pour yourself a cup of coffee or your favorite celebratory drink and sip it slow — real slow. Savor the wins. Let go of the misses. Appreciate the lessons learned. You’ve come a long way in the last decade of raising digital kids, and not all of it has been easy.

As we head into 2020, we’re tossing parenting resolutions (hey, it’s a victory to make it through a week let alone a year!). Instead, we’re looking back over the digital terrain we’ve traveled together and lessons learned. Need a refresher? Here’s a glimpse of how technology has impacted the family over the past decade.

In the last decade

• Smartphone, social, gaming growth. Social media and gaming platforms have exploded to usage and influence levels no one could have imagined. Smartphone ownership has increased and as of 2019: 81% of adults own a smartphone and 72% use social media, 53% of kids own a smartphone by the age of 11, and 84 % of teenagers have phones.

• Video platform growth. Video platforms like YouTube have become the go-to for teens and tweens who spend nearly three hours a day watching videos online.

• Streaming news. Smartphones have made it possible for all of us to carry (and stream) the world in our pockets. In 2018, for the first time, social media sites surpassed print newspapers as a news source for Americans.

• Dating apps dominate. We’re hooking up, dating, and marrying using apps. A Stanford study found that “heterosexual couples are more likely to meet a romantic partner online than through personal contacts and connections.”

• The rise of the Influencer. Internet influencers and celebrities have reached epic levels of fame, wealth, and reach, creating an entire industry of vloggers, gamers, micro and niche-influencers, and others who have become “instafamous.”

• Lexicon changes. Every day, technology is adding terms to our lexicon that didn’t exist a decade ago such as selfie, OMG, streaming, bae, fake news, the cloud, wearables, finsta, influencers, emojis, tracking apps, catfish, digital shaming, screen time, cryptojacking, FOMO, and hashtag, along with hundreds of others.

What we’ve learned (often the hard way)

Most people, if polled, would say technology has improved daily life in incalculable ways. But ask a parent of a child between five and 18 the same question, and the response may not be as enthusiastic. Here are some lessons we’ve learned the hard way.

Connection brings risk. We’ve learned that with unprecedented connection comes equally unprecedented risk. Everyday devices plug our kids directly into the potential for cyberbullying, sexting, inappropriate content, and mental health issues.  Over the past decade, parents, schools, and leaders have worked to address these risks head-on but we have a long way to go in changing the online space into an emotionally safe and healthy place.

Tech addiction isn’t a myth.  To curb the negative impact of increased tech use, we’ve learned ways to balance and limit screen time, unplug, and digitally detox. Most importantly, it’s been confirmed that technology addiction is a medical condition that’s impacting people and families in very painful ways.

The internet remembers. We’ve witnessed the very public consequences of bad digital choices. Kids and adults have wrecked scholarships, reputations, and careers due to careless words or content shared online. Because of these cases, we’re learning — though never fast enough — to think twice about the behaviors and words we share.

We’re equipping vs. protecting. We’ve gone from monitoring our kids aggressively and freaking out over headlines to realizing that we can’t put the internet in a bottle and follow our kids 24/7. We’ve learned that relevant, consistent conversation, adding an extra layer of protection with security software, and taking the time to understand (not just monitor) the ways our kids use new apps, is the best way to equip them for digital life.

The parent-child relationship is #1. When it comes to raising savvy digital kids and keeping them safe, there’s not a monitoring plan in existence that rivals a strong parent-child relationship. If you’ve earned your child’s heart, mind, and respect, you have his or her attention and can equip them daily to make wise choices online.

The dark web is . . . unimaginably dark. The underbelly of the internet — the encrypted, anonymous terrain known as the Dark Web — has moved from covert to mainstream exposure. We’ve learned the hard way the degree of sophistication with which criminals engage in pornography, human trafficking, drug and weapon sales, and stolen data. With more knowledge, the public is taking more precautions especially when it comes to malware, phishing scams, and virus attacks launched through popular public channels.

There’s a lot of good going on. As much negative as we’ve seen and experienced online over the past decade, we’ve also learned that its power can be used equally to amplify the best of humanity. Social media has sparked social movements, helped first responders and brought strangers together in times of tragedy like no other medium in history.

Privacy is (finally) king. Ten years ago, we clicked on every link that came our way and wanted to share every juicy detail about our personal lives. We became publishers and public figures overnight and readily gave away priceless chunks of our privacy. The evolution and onslaught of data breaches, data mining, and malicious scams have educated us to safeguard our data and privacy like gold.

We’ve become content curators. The onslaught of fake news, photo apps, and filter bubbles have left our heads spinning and our allegiances confused. In the process, we’ve learned to be more discerning with the content we consume and share. While we’re not there yet, our collective digital literacy is improving as our understanding of various types of content grows.

Parents have become digital ninjas. The parenting tasks of monitoring, tracking, and keeping up with kids online have gone from daunting to doable for most parents. With the emotional issues now connected to social media, most parents don’t have the option of sitting on the sidelines and have learned to track their kids better than the FBI.

This is us

We’ve learned that for better or worse, this wired life is us. There’s no going back. Where once there may have been doubt a decade ago, today it’s clear we’re connected forever. The internet has become so deep-seated in our culture and homes that unplugging completely for most of us is no longer an option without severe financial (and emotional) consequences. The task ahead for this new decade? To continue working together to diminish the ugly side of technology — the bullying, the cruelty, the crime — and make the internet a safe, fun experience for everyone.

About the Author

Toni Birdsong

Toni Birdsong is a Family Safety Evangelist for McAfee. She is an author, speaker, and cyber savvy mom of two teenagers (much to their dismay). As a family safety evangelist for McAfee, she focuses on online safety and often speaks to educators, parents, and teens about dodging the dangers online. She is the co-owner of ...

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