[MEDIA] Encouraging #YouthWorkers to Discuss the Digital, with @PremierRadio #SID2017

As Safer Internet Day continues, I checked in for a chat with Alex Williams from Premier to discuss safety online, especially the possibilities that youth workers have to make a difference. Read and listen here.

Media & Press Media - Audio

[MEDIA] Talking ‘Digital Image’ with Paul Hammond for @UCBMedia #SID2017

The following came through on a newswire, based upon a survey by the UK Safer Internet Centre (organisation behind Safer Internet Day), and I looked forward to chatting to Paul Hammond again, on this topic (and here’s some of the thoughts I prepared):

Research conducted to coincide with the annual safer internet day reveals that just under half of British children are scared to use the internet, worried about online bullying or strangers asking them to do things they’d be uncomfortable with. A third of children say they have regretted posting something online because it may negatively affect one of their friends.

As always when such negative results come back, I really would like to know what the wording on the surveys is? I was at a government policy event last week, and was disappointed that the questions asked of children by a House of Lords survey seemed to be along the lines of “are you addicted to the internet?” (very leading question!),although the general tone by most organisations, such as the NSPCC, is to speak a lot more positively about the digital, although many deal with a lot of the particularly negative aspects of it (as do the police, who are often brought in to speak on e-safety).

The newswire ties in very well with the standard media narrative, and much of the publishing narrative, that life (especially online) is dangerous and must be managed and controlled! Tie this in with ideas that have developed over the last few decades that children need ‘protecting’ from so many different ‘dangers’, and it’s no wonder that people are fearful of the internet, especially in relation to vulnerable users such as children. Children’s lives seem to have been restricted in so many ways over recent years – I was chatting with Vicki Shotbolt from Parentzone last week, and we were discussing ‘unintended consequences’ of policy or cultural change … including the increasing fears for children outside, which has led to children been kept inside. They are not going online and ignoring the physical world, they are engaging online, because it’s a ‘free space to visit’ when the physical world is off-limits. With many parents still limited in digital literacy and digital confidence, and seeing the digital as a ‘special/separate’ space, there are still fears about engaging with children on it (surprisingly, even for those who have grown up within a digital culture). The digital is now embedded into digital life – it is part of life, it is real, although the environment does have it’s own particularities that we need to work within (as you might need to if you visited a foreign culture!).

Digital culture largely refers to what is now everyday life – much of our life is controlled by 0 and 1s, delivered through human-managed algorithms (AI is a whole another topic of debate) – but we have to remember that we still retain our humanity (are humans largely unchanged over the last 2000+ years?). Essentially digital culture is about the relation between humans and technology – and the things that it has ‘normalised’. My focus is largely on the positive possibilities of the digital, but we certainly need to be rigorously investigating and questioning what has become ‘the everyday’ and has in many places, not been challenged! We have moved from a print culture to a broadcast culture, to a digital (increasingly interactive) culture. The internet sprung from hippy culture and that has shaped some of it’s etiquette/norms, but it’s now become very corporate, and this has raised more questions for many…. including the hot topic of ‘sharenting’, about which I wrote yesterday.

Image has been a powerful for centuries – my PhD partly drew on the notion that ‘a picture speaks 1,000 words’, as it investigated the underlying beliefs (or discourses, within Foucauldian discourse analysis) behind the images used in home front propaganda posters in the Second World War in Britain. Images can tell us so much about the society within which they are produced, shared and reacted to – the depictions, the responses, and highlighting our concerns. As with all technologies, the power of the image is influenced by what is made possible (through technology, economics, regulation, etc.) – the visual has become so ‘cheap’ and easy to capture, edit and share – and there are many fears about the ‘curated self’ (or as I referred to it in a past presentation – the photoshopped self), but this tells us more about what culture is prepared to accept, endorse or encourage than the technology itself (remember Betamax was better than VHS technologically, but VHS had a better marketing strategy). Some things stay the same, some things change – “continuity and change” = the bedrocks of history. Selfies have become ubiquitous, but they have their equivalent in history – although the ‘need for likes’ may be something a little new!

Body image is one concern of mine (see Beyond Chocolate), and sometimes it feels that it’s impossible to change ‘the representation of the normal’ which is slim, white, young, blue-eyed, blonde, etc. As Barker & Jane, Cultural Studies: Theory and Practice, 2016 highlight – we can challenge these images with new representations, but we are working against a much larger power-imbalance than solely the digital. In each small action, however, we are challenging the noam, and highlighting what is invisible (as discourse analysis of the posters did – e.g. in VD campaigns, the audience was assumed to be heterosexual – mind you homosexuality was illegal back then).

Images give children options for communication, self-expression and creativity (including global connectivity), but there can be pressures (for perfection, for curation), are risks (to reputation), and negative consequences (in giving away too much data – remember ‘Careless Talk Costs Lives’ – how small pieces of information can be patched together) but we need to remember that LIFE IS NOT RISK-FREE, and parents, carers and other important adults/older peers need to be in/best the spaces with children, and ensure the conversational lifelines are kept open. I often say that you wouldn’t throw a child into a pool without support (tech support and parental support), nor would you let them roam the local park on their own – these are comparative with those situations – and you need to understand both the opportunities, and be aware of the risks – this was why I wrote Raising Children in a Digital Age to give parents/grandparents/youthworkers/extended family/teachers confidence to engage and talk about the digital with their children, so that all can have a more positive experience!


To recap on my ‘Top 10 Tips’:

  1. The internet is not a wild west, free from the norms of contemporary culture. Children don’t know it all! Recognise potential scams, and look out for positive applications.
  2. Know how to use your privacy settings, and ensure that your children do this too! Regularly check.
  3. Be aware that the age for most social media sites is 13+, when psychologists agree that children as ‘ready’ for the type of social interactions online. If you are letting children online earlier, what does this say about respect for rules? Be aware that Lego have just released an app for children, which is designed for a younger age group – check it out!
  4. As a family, pull together an internet safety agreement (appropriate for different ages). Ensure the communication lines are open, so that you are the first place a child turns to, not a stranger on the internet.
  5. Don’t share so many fragments of information that you establish a regular routine discernible to others.
  6. The internet can be both temporary and permanent – check before you press that SEND button.
  7. Don’t share passwords – even with people you think you will be friends with forever. Change passwords frequently.
  8. Cyberbullying is not a rite of passage, either as the bully or the bullied. Take it seriously and try and catch it early.
  9. Illegal apps are more likely to download viruses, etc. to your devices than anything else – a far bigger risk than so-called  ‘stranger danger’!
  10. Think about the role model that you set for children! Remember the internet is not a babysitter. Look for opportunities such as PokemonGo and Geocaching which mix the online/offline in adventures!

You should be able to listen to the show later – and here’s the specific extract:


#SID2017 – Are people ‘over-sharenting’? #DigitalParenting

Safer Internet Day 2017 is tomorrow – on the theme of ‘Be the change: Unite for a better internet‘, encouraging all stakeholders to ‘join together to make the internet a safer and better place for all, and especially children and young people.’

This afternoon, I was contacted by BBC Radio Manchester about the possibility of discussing the current concerns re ‘sharenting’ on their breakfast show – it has already been knocked off by other more local concerns, but I thought I’d share a few of my thoughts – I haven’t got time to over-work them, so they’ll be a bit rough and ready!

Sharenting was a new term only briefly referenced in my 2014 book Raising Children in a Digital Age:

The Parenting Place in New Zealand notes that many parents are announcing their pregnancy online (around 25 per cent share the news via the first scan), posting the child’s birth, first words, and first steps, creating a digital shadow before the child is even born. By the time they’re two, more than 90 per cent of children have an online history. A new term, “Sharents”, has been created for parents who appear to share every moment of their child’s life. Mashable gives some useful advice to such parents, and to those trying to cope with the “baby overload”: don’t believe that others have “perfect lives” with their children. Raising Children in a Digital Age, p97

By 2015 it was clearly in use, see Alicia Blum-Ross’s definition as  “the slightly awkward term for when parents share photos and stories about their kids online, via social networks and blog.”. It appears to have become a bigger concern since then – just do a quick search of Google News:

Mummy Bee gives some good advice, as she wrestles with the topic herself “It’s one thing if you occasionally post a picture or two of your child at his birthday party or a video of her taking her first steps. But once you share picture after picture of moments that might embarrass the kid later on, you’re officially a sharent.” It’s not only about pictures, if you share about other aspects of life, is that problematic too?

As always, there’s a seeking to understand what we are doing ‘in a digital age’, where the digital as ‘as real’ as anything in the physical world. There are historical precedents for the kind of things that we share – the old photo albums, the photos on the mantelpiece, the dodgy stories (told in wedding speeches, etc.), but the digital, and the easy availability of quality cameras without associated processing costs, have made it easy to share every aspect of our lives very easily.

Another extract from my book, with the proviso that we should all be becoming more au fait with the privacy settings on our software (and pressuring companies to make it easier to do so) – and being very clear about who is in the groups, etc. that you share this content with:

When you are using the internet, or advising your children, consider your privacy. Mark Zuckerberg, the man behind Facebook, has said that privacy is “no longer a social norm”. This can be seen from the way that Facebook encourages us to connect with more and more people, in order to enable them to continue to draw in advertising (which funds their business model). The web is a place that “rewards openness”: assume that everything you write online is potentially for public consumption (in the same way as anything that is written on paper could be photocopied and shared, or spoken and recorded). Don’t get paranoid and refuse to share, but establish your criteria. Mine would be: Am I happy for my parents to see this? Or any children I work with? Would I mind seeing it on the front page of a newspaper (or shared publicly around Twitter, as Randi Zuckerberg did)? Could my worst enemy do anything with what I’ve written? None of this should stop you posting, but it should cause you to pause and think. Just because you can, doesn’t always mean that you should. Raising Children in a Digital Age, p88

Bearing in mind that ‘the cybersphere is increasingly reflecting the social, economic and cultural inequalities of the offline world’ Barker & Jane, Cultural Studies: Theory and Practice, 2016, p467, I’m always keen to look beyond “what is the technology doing to us”, to thinking how we are individually and corporately shaping technology, as well as the wider context that we are working within… and always particularly interested in historical parallels!

I used to think ‘reasons my son is crying’ were funny, and to be honest, sometimes I still do – in the same way as You’ve Been Framed – maybe. It’s all too easy to get precious about these things, especially when we’re fed a steady media diet of pornography, grooming and privacy losses, but I have become uncomfortable about the more ‘social shaming’ aspect of these kind of posts. A friend said that they had used Facebook to reprimand their child for not replacing the toilet roll, and agreed to take it down (particularly as the child was tagged in the photo of the empty toilet roll – visual = important you see!).

There’s always the question of whether taking photos is at expense of ‘real interacting’, to which I think is often not the case, but if an entire blog is about every nuance of a child’s life, where does that put us (we have laws in place for children of celebrities, what about the children of ordinary children – this is where organisations such as 5Rights are raising the debate re: access to removing content)? As always, it’s all too easy to focus on the negative of digital aspects of life, when there’s real positives in sharing stuff (with trusted groups, good privacy settings). Sharing is something that many have grown up with (as we did, maybe, when we picked up the phone as soon as we got home from school). With family literally spread in four corners of England,  it’s nice to SEE people in between times, especially my nieces and nephews – it really makes up for only physically being able to see them infrequently – although one can choose which platform (e.g. Whatsapp family group).

I also think it’s really helpful sharing some of the ‘messiness’ of life, and knowing that you’re not the only one dealing with kids doing x/y/z, and for those who have particularly difficult home lives, as always with the ‘aware who sharing with’ (you wouldn’t leave your child alone in a public park would you – that’s much of how I describe much of social media),  it’s cathartic and ‘no more than a chat’ in the social space… or is it? How much damage is done by being negative about children online?

I wondered also if this is similar to the ‘exam howlers that are shared by teachers and academics (part of keeping selves sane whilst marking, and on occasion, wondering if you were speaking in Klingon!) falls within this remit. Partly it’s whether it’s traceable to you/the student, and whether it’s done in humour or cruelty – or does it not matter?

One friend highlighted the importance of joining a ‘nice non-judgemental group‘, and had created her own for child related/family issues. Seen as a great space for support, to share photos of kids, ‘memes to cheer us up but also ask each other advice all the time. It’s good to know you’re not the only one – when you can feel like you’re messing up . It’s a closed group for safety and I chat with every new joiner. I do get ‘odd’ profiles apply occasionally (fake profile photo etc) and refuse them instantly.’ Most seem to appreciate the safe-space support, and recognise that it’s about the parents as much as about the kids.

The importance of support groups as a ‘real source of support and sharing, useful contacts and advice’ was highlighted by another friend, who indicated it’s a shame that we live in a culture in which child abuse, etc. is so prominent, that e.g. photos from school plays were withdrawn in recent years, and we have become more fearful about all kinds of things.

I really don’t like the idea that we live ‘over-curated lives’ and appreciated this thought from another friend:

Not at all sure that this is what you’re after, but I get really distressed when parents share nothing positive about their children and complain lots. I’m well aware that parenting is really tough and it’s a good way of getting support at a time when it’s difficult to get away from kids/home to meet friends etc. But I worry about the impact it may have on the kids if they get to see it and/or if people in the kid’s life will relate differently to them because of it. Also, as someone who is trying to get accustomed to the fact that I won’t be a parent having spent my entire life assuming I would be, I feel for all the people reading this stuff who would give anything to have sleepless nights etc if that was the reason.

Others disagree that parents should share so much at all:

I’m not really comfortable with pictures of kids who are too young to consent to it being on the internet at all. While parents are supposedly responsible for their kids, imagine getting into your teens and your on-line persona having already been created by someone else. With those school pictures from when you weren’t allowed to choose your own hairstyle…

But overall, the feeling seems to be that can share, but be careful what sharing, considering how you don’t make the child identifiable (e.g. their schools, their medical conditions, etc.), and not saying anything you wouldn’t say to your own child (at some point) – and they may even enjoy being part of the online conversation (excited by the likes/comments a post gets):

There are specific FB groups where I raise particular concerns and ask advice but I am very careful because some of them have large memberships and can be “competitive” and bullying. I am incredibly uneasy about the YouTube families which share so many details of their lives online. I know that means that Little Person thinks that is an acceptable thing to do and doesn’t understand why I won’t let her do similar.

They’ll always be people who overshare in every aspect of life – digital and physical!  It’s a complex topic, and one that we are working out in real-time. It’s possible to become over-cautious, but also over-careless. Let’s think carefully about what, and who, we share with!

The final comment on my Facebook that made me giggle in response to the ‘moral panic’ type issues raised in this post “Make the Internet Great Again!” “Build a firewall and make Microsoft pay for it!!”

Then sit back and watch the tweets from #SID2017 roll in … and Instagram, and Facebook, and and and…