24 May 2024

Letter from the Editor: A hard time to be a parent but tough love starts at home

| Jen White
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Teenager at a computer in the dark.

The negative impact of social media and inappropriate online content is a challenging issue for parents. Photo: OlgaGimaeva.

Dear 2024 parents,

I adore being a mum, but I’m so pleased that I’m not in your shoes raising a child in this day and age.

I’m sure every generation of parents thinks they have it tougher than their parents, however no other generation has had to deal with the perils of social media and the impact it has on children of all ages.

I think back to when I was growing up – admittedly sheltered in the country – when there was no such thing as mobile phones, let alone the internet. I’m sure bullying happened back then, but once school was over for the day the only way a potential bully could contact you was via a landline which was generally answered by a gatekeeper parent.

We weren’t bombarded at all hours by vicious trolls or exposed to violent, sexual comments and images. We couldn’t be targeted by manipulative advertisers and our private information was just that – private.

By the time I became a parent, the technology of today was still in its infancy. While a mobile phone is a given for many pre-teens today, we decided number one son had to wait until high school before he was allowed to have one.

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The only reason he got one in Year Six was because his grandmother forgot to pick him up from school one day, so we figured he needed some way to contact us.

But his phone was simply for making calls. Few mobiles – and certainly not the model he had – had cameras and it was no smartphone.

Facebook was a relatively new concept and he didn’t join until mid-high school – long before his technology-challenged mother. I can’t remember having in-depth conversations with him about the dangers of social media, except maybe a warning not to post anything he would be embarrassed about at a future job interview.

Unfortunately he was bullied, but that was in the playground in junior high school and it didn’t follow him home – because it simply couldn’t.

Unlike my beautiful nieces and nephew, who at times were hounded, ridiculed and bullied on social media to the extent that my nephew refused to go to school.

Sadly, it seems that behaviour has become almost the norm for kids these days.

One could argue that it’s a reflection of society, where gender-related violence has reached horrific levels. In Wollongong today (Saturday 25 May), the Women’s Centre is hosting a call to action in Lang Park with the aim of starting a community-led cultural revolution to stop domestic and sexual violence against women.

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General manager Michelle Glasgow is right when she says there is something wrong with our culture here in Australia. The laissez-faire attitude of “she’ll be right mate” is not good enough anymore.

NSW has joined Victoria, Queensland and South Australia in a push for age minimums on tech platforms, including Facebook, Instagram and TikTok, and the Federal Government plans to spend $6.5 million to trial an age-verification program aimed at restricting children’s exposure to inappropriate online content, including pornography and potentially social media.

The reasoning is certainly sound but, while we have to start somewhere, I’m not convinced it can be enforced. After all, isn’t there already (supposedly) an age minimum of 13 to sign up with Facebook?

Like the issue of gender-based violence, it’s going to take a community revolution to stop it.

And like it or not, today’s parents have to start that revolution with their own children. I admit I was fortunate as a parent in that the timing of technology was on my side and I didn’t have to tackle such a tough challenge.

I get that it’s not easy – I have no idea how many times my son whinged at me that “everyone else is doing it/has one/is allowed”.

Yes, I was guilty of repeating the same line my parents used to say to me when I’d whinge about the unfairness of it all: “Would you jump off a cliff just because everyone else is doing it?”.

But isn’t it worth saying no if you can save someone’s child from jumping off that cliff?

If you or someone you know needs help, you can contact:

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