Being a Good Digital Parent: Managing Children’s Online Risks and Experiences

Thursday, 19 July 2018: 10:30
Oral Presentation
Glenda WALL, Wilfrid Laurier University, Canada
Social concern about online safety for children and youth has increased dramatically over the last two decades. While initial concern centred on pornography and internet predators, this has broadened with the expansion of social media to include public anxiety about cyber-bullying, sexting, and the impact of social media on young people’s mental health. Sociologists of youth have connected the regulation of young people online to media panics in general, social concerns about the moral pollution of children’s purity, the increasing surveillance and supervision of children, and the shrinking spaces of freedom available to them. Relatively little attention, however, has been paid to the implications of the changing social expectations facing parents, who find themselves having to negotiate cultural ideals of intensive parenthood of children for longer and longer periods of time while avoiding what has become pejoratively known as ‘helicopter parenting.’

Drawing on a sample of educational material and media reports that address the role of parents in managing and regulating their children’s digital experiences, this study examines cultural understandings of good parenthood with respect to children’s internet safety. The ways in which the parents, children, and the internet are framed are examined within the cultural context of risk aversion, child-centred intensive parenting, growing concerns about over-parenting and neo-liberal understandings of self-management and responsibility. Initial findings suggest that parents must navigate a number of contradictory expectations based on representations of them as both agents of surveillance and children’s confidantes, and as both lacking in knowledge but having a great deal of control over, and responsibility for, children’s choices. The implications for parents’ and children’s experiences as well as parent-child relationships are discussed.