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‘Digital is like the air around us. So how can we help children to manage their breathing?’

Following his talk at the Digital Families 2018 conference, Parent Zone’s head of digital Cliff Manning outlines his vision for responding to the changing digital world – and how we can improve support for the whole family, wherever they are...

When we look ahead at how the digital challenges and opportunities will evolve, I think we can view them in three broad themes:

  • Digital is everywhere and nowhere
  • Influence is global but relevance is local
  • Networked atomisation

Everywhere and nowhere

The lines between online and offline life are becoming increasingly blurred, especially for children. As new technologies such as Internet of Things, wearables, voice assistants and augmented reality become mainstream, this weaving together of digital and physical environments will become ever more complex and subtle in nature.

However, it is not just about devices and content. Our lives are increasingly being shaped by machine-led decisions. Children born today will have their lives monitored, measured, analyzed and assessed in ways we can’t really appreciate now.

‘There are powerful currents of influence that can take content, ideas, opportunities and risks around the world in an instant’

As digital becomes more pervasive in everyday life the very notion of ‘going online’ is changing rapidly. If digital is everywhere, then it is nowhere. Sitting down at the computer to ‘go online’ doesn't really exist anymore – even picking up your phone to connect isn’t really true these days.

Instead of teaching children to swim maybe we help them manage their breathing.

It has often been said that teaching online safety and digital skills is a bit like teaching swimming. ‘If children live at the coast we shouldn’t ban them from the sea, we should teach them to swim’.

However, in this increasingly meshed digital environment, we may need to reconsider the metaphors we use.

Rather than online being like water that you step in and out of, maybe it is more like the air that surrounds and sustains us. Instead of teaching children to swim, maybe we help them manage their breathing.

Global and local

Despite many changes in politics, we are still very much part of a global digital environment. As we see with memes, news and stories, there are powerful currents of influence that can take content, ideas, opportunities and risks around the world in an instant. Children are naturally caught up in these flows – and in many cases they are the prime creators.

However, while influence can be global, that doesn't mean it is the same everywhere. How the content and ideas carried by those currents of influence land – what they mean and how they are valued – is greatly shaped by ‘local’ values and culture.

This is nothing new, but it is something we may sometimes underestimate with digital activity because has such global potential.

Networked but alone

Super personalisation can make life more convenient but it can also create new walls

We are already living in a hyperconnected society. As billions more people gain access and new tools increase opportunities to connect, then children will be more networked than ever.
This can have huge benefits – accessing information, finding support or creating change can be made easier and amplified. However, being connected to so many people, so loosely, can also leave us feeling lonely and confused.

Personalisation of services and information helps us make sense of this tangle of networks and content. ‘Super personalisation’ can make life more convenient but it can also create new walls,  closing off other networks and ideas. Debate and understanding can easily become polarised as our circles get smaller.

So... what is our response?

The paradoxes and tensions broadly outlined here are not just challenges or risks to address they also present many opportunities for creativity. For Parent Zone to provide support for families in the future, we need be in a position to understand, adapt and respond to the challenges and opportunities accordingly.

Digital infrastructure - Behind the scenes, we are redeveloping all of our systems so that we can utilise the best digital tools more effectively. This will allow us to work at scale and in more creative and inclusive ways.

Greater inclusion - We are looking at how we can be more inclusive in everything we do. How are we involving the whole family in shaping and delivering services? How can we work more directly with children and young people?

Working with Reason Digital we have convened roundtables with a wide range of organisations in the UK and started to explore with young people how we can create services in more responsive ways.

With the kind support of the US Embassy London, we will be building new connections with youth organisations in the US and working with young people in the US and UK to explore how we can include them as part of an international offer.

International access and localisation - Building on the success of our work with Vodafone and Telenor we are looking at how we can make all of our services more international and also more localised.

Localisation might mean working in partnership to adapt a resource for different languages or cultures. For example we have been localising the DigiWorld curriculum for use in countries as distant as Norway and Myanmar.

However, localisation may also mean making resources more relevant for specific needs within the UK. With the support of Carnegie UK Trust we have been looking at how we can make our work more easily available for professionals supporting children in care.


Building bridges

‘Our intention is to look at how we can practically facilitate conversations within families, between families and experts, and between communities’

Through all of this forward planning, our intention is to practically facilitate conversations within families, between families and experts and between communities.

These are ambitious aims. None of this will happen overnight and none of it can be done alone –  but by looking forward and thinking globally together, we are confident we can continue to improve outcomes for children and the whole family in a digital world.

If you would like to learn more about our plans or to discuss how you could help, please get in touch.