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Recovery will be key in 2021 – and we’ll be with families every step of the way

Mother lying on a sofa with two children looking at a laptop

By Vicki Shotbolt, Parent Zone founder and CEO

My grandmother survived the 1918 flu pandemic. According to family legend it was because her mother hung an onion at the end of her bed when she was unconscious.

Obviously the truth is she was young and healthy and able to fight it off despite the inadequate medical treatment – but an onion makes for a better family story. 

I wonder what stories we’ll tell the next generation about the crisis we’re all living through. I won’t be referencing vegetables, but I will definitely be talking about technology. By then, a Zoom call will sound like a retro joke much as dial-up does now. I’ll be able to explain that in the Covid pandemic of 2020, video calls were a revelation – though I’ll probably need to explain what voice calls were first, because they’ll have been consigned to the history books.

I hope I’ll be able to say that despite the awfulness of it all there were some lasting positives. Things like the fact that we finally realised that the internet wasn’t an ‘add on’ or a ‘nice to have’. It wasn’t somewhere we used to visit when the real world got boring – it was during the Covid pandemic that we all realised that online life was real life and technology could empower, educate and help us to reduce social isolation.

Hopefully by then technology will be a utility. Free Wi-Fi will be the norm in towns and villages and the idea that a family wasn’t able to afford a computer or a reliable connection will be as appalling as that of an outside toilet. Being online will be as safe as being offline and our laws will have been updated so they include all of the spaces we live in, not just the physical ones. 

I fear we might have a long way to go before I’m able to tell that particular part of the story. Of course, the trouble with long journeys is that it’s terribly easy to get lost. What seems important at the start of something can easily appear silly with the benefit of hindsight. Like banning popcorn in cinemas to make them aspirational. Or banning recorded music because it undermines live performance. Both real examples – the first from the early days of silent-movie theatres and the other a cunning idea from President Saparmurat Niyazov of Turkmenistan in Central Asia. His ban on recorded music was only lifted after his death in 2006. 

As we emerge from this pandemic and transition back to whatever normal looks like there’s going to be one thing that we will all need to focus on. That thing is recovery. Economic recovery, mental health recovery and recovery for young people who have had their lives put on hold and disrupted in ways none of us could help them prepare for. Students who have been short-changed with online classes that can’t replace the full university experience. Children who have had to deal with schools closing – and then opening – and now maybe closing again. Parents who have seen their secure jobs disappear and their ability to support their family go up in smoke. 

Through all of this, the one thing that has remained stable is the family unit. It’s where we’ve retreated to and where we’ve found solace. It’s the constant in our lives when the world goes to hell in a handcart. Anyone fortunate enough to have a family around them has been reminded of how lucky they are. Anyone for whom family isn’t a safe environment has suffered profoundly without the security of places they used to be able to escape to. 

All of which begs one big question: why don’t we do more to support families? Why don’t we celebrate what parents do at every opportunity? How can we help them navigate a connected world as a unit so that every family can benefit from digital resources and technological advances? Why do we never think family first? 

That’s actually more than one question, but I hope you’ll forgive me. At Parent Zone, everything we do is about supporting families so that we can secure the best possible future for the next generation. Whether we’re launching a tool such as Ollee to support parents and children having conversations about their feelings or we’re delivering a national education programme like Be Internet Legends, our aim is always the same. It’s about skills and confidence. Knowledge and empowerment. It’s about so much more than safety – although that’s critical too. 

2021 is going to be a tough year. I hope it is the year that every step we take is guided by what’s best for families. Let’s make the stories we tell the next generation joyful ones, not ones that are full of regret, missteps and missed opportunities.

If we think about how we can support families to recover right now, we can get it right. That’s what I’m going to be thinking about over Christmas. In between turkey and mince pies. I hope you’ll join us on the other side to help write the script for a better future for families.


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