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A New Year for Parent Zone

Vicki Shotbolt, founder and CEO of Parent Zone, outlines our plan for 2018. 

Crikey, it’s 2018. Parent Zone is about to become a teenager. Fortunately, we really like teenagers. Far from the ridiculous stereotypes that exist about them being uncommunicative and difficult, we find them to be smart, thoughtful and optimistic. And that’s what we plan to be as we enter our thirteenth year.

We have noticed that the dialogue about the internet has become unremittingly negative. Every morning brings more stories about the dreadful things the internet is doing to our democracy, our children’s safety, our security and society in general. Even the founding fathers of the internet are telling us we need to do more to make sure we don’t assume the web will ‘lead us to wonderful things’. It’s enough to make even the boldest teenager pause and wonder which direction to take.

The trouble is, as these debates rage and policy makers around the world try to figure out what needs to happen, one thing remains certain: parents need to raise children who can flourish in a digital age. Parenting doesn’t pause while the complications are ironed out and children don’t stop growing up and pushing boundaries, doing all the things that mark the long journey from infancy to adulthood. In the complicated world of family life, the daily business of getting on with things goes on. Whatever comes through the family front door has to be dealt with, whether that’s a teenager coming out as transgender or a toddler starting to bite people at nursery school. The ebb and flow of raising children continues in all its fabulousness. It’s not always easy but it is always precious and that’s what we remember when we set our work programme every year.

'We think growing up in a digital world is fantastic and we need to make sure every child’s experience of it is a positive one'

In the end, whatever challenges the internet might throw at families we have to navigate through them in order for children to benefit from all the good stuff. It’s no good demonizing the spaces children love or trying to walk in front of the internet with a virtual red flag. We have to raise digitally literate, confident technology users ready to enter a working world that is going to look very different to the one we entered even ten years ago. We have to be ambitious for our children and see the internet not as a threat but as an opportunity. This is what Parent Zone is going to be focusing on in 2018. We understand that most parents are as enthusiastic about their tech as their children – not many of us want to give up our mobile or say goodbye to the box set. We also know that parents are talking to their children about life online despite some commentators assuming parents never talk to their children.

We recognise that parents are stressed out about the constant calls to monitor their child’s every digital move. So, we’re saying ‘enough already’. Let’s move the dial and start to think creatively. What could we do to make sure that children stay safe and flourish online and offline? We’ve settled on three words: Resilience, Relationships and Recovery. We know that children who are resilient are more likely to benefit from opportunities online and less likely to experience harm. We also know that resilience isn’t a lesson you learn in school or a skill you acquire – it must be fostered and nurtured, and parenting makes all the difference. So we’ll be helping parents by sharing the secrets of effective digital parenting.  

'Children who are resilient are more likely to benefit from opportunities'

Parent Zone knows that, in the end, life is about relationships. If we can build positive relationships online and offline we can all enjoy a happier, safer life. Some of the most intransigent problems of the internet – like cyberbullying and trolling – have been getting steadily worse despite numerous attempts at different interventions. It’s time to think differently. We’re going to be supporting the new relationship and sex education curriculum because we think it has the potential to be transformative. Helping children to recognise and develop positive relationships has to be the way forward. It’s the reading, writing and arithmetic of human interactions. A knowledge set that children will be able to use online or offline. It's potentially far more effective than any whack-a-mole efforts to deal with bad relationships, cyberbullying or messages that already look prehistoric like ‘don’t talk to strangers online’.

Finally, we’ve included recovery because without recovery there can be no resilience. Taking risks, learning from mistakes, recovering and trying again is all part of the cycle of resilience. The routes to recovery when things go wrong online are far too few and far too difficult to find. We can’t plug the recovery gap at Parent Zone but we can help with all the information we provide on Parent Info and  our dedicated parent help service.

'It’s no good demonizing the spaces children love or trying to walk in front of the internet with a virtual red flag'

We’re excited about 2018. We’re changing the narrative. Resetting the dial. Switching up the gears. Call it what you will. Family life can sometimes feel like a roller coaster. Our experts are going to be here for the thrilling bits and the terrifying bits. We have our eyes on the prize – digital opportunity – because we think growing up in a digital world is fantastic and we need to make sure every child’s experience of it is a positive one.