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2016’s banished words: digital parenting edition

By Rachel Rosen

Every January we’re hit by a wave of things to look out for in the New Year – trending topics, must-have gadgets, popular resolutions and more. One piece that’s had a lot of attention this year is Lake Superior State University’s 41st annual list of 13 banned words and phrases for the coming year. Featuring online favourites like ‘break the internet’ and ‘manspreading’, the list covers the redundant, the inaccurate and the just plain annoying.

Team PZ has been inspired to nominate our own list of words and phrases to ban in the world of parenting and online safety – all in good fun, of course, and recognising that some will probably be with us at least another year.

1. Digital detox. Taking a break from your devices can be a good thing, but calling it a ‘detox’ implies that tech is somehow toxic. There’s nothing inherently negative about technology or the internet, so instead of trying to go cold turkey, we should focus on finding a healthy balance between online and offline time.

Image: Mike Licht CC BY

2. Sexting. There is a place for this word, but we need to think about how we use it. As it turns out, adults might be the biggest sexting enthusiasts of all, so it’s wrong to act like it’s a teen-only issue. Also, it might not be the right word to use when talking to young people about how to stay safe – most don’t talk about ‘sexting’ nearly as often, or as seriously, as concerned adults.

3. The family computer. The problem here isn’t with mentions of family computers, per se. If your family shares one computer – and some certainly do – it’s perfectly fine to talk about it. The trouble is when parents are told that keeping the family computer in a shared room, where they can see it, will be enough to keep their children safe online. UK children can access the internet on the go – at school, on smartphones and tablets. They need to be prepared to make safe decisions online even when parents aren’t around.

Image: Joan Carles Torres CC BY

4. Cyberbullying. Is bullying really a different problem altogether when it happens online? When bullying takes place in ‘cyberspace’ the key thing is still that someone’s being bullied, not that it’s happening on Snapchat or WhatsApp. In the digital age, problems like bullying will often have an online component – that doesn’t mean they’re completely different issues.

5. Digital natives. The internet can be traced back to the 1960s and the word ‘smartphone’ first appeared in print more than 20 years ago, so it’s not just children who have had time to adjust to technology. Research also shows that digital skills are varied across all age groups. Assuming that tech ability is based on age is unfair – both to children who aren’t confident online and to adults who are.

6. eSafety. At our annual Digital Families conference last year, one of the speakers delivered an impassioned plea – ‘die, eSafety!’ Perhaps this will be the year it finally goes. The young people we talk to don’t distinguish between their lives online and off, so we shouldn’t either. This year, let’s talk about how to raise confident, resilient children who are digitally literate and prepared for life in 2016.