Later this month, I will be speaking at the BRAVE Women’s Conference about how to tackle the new challenges that come with parenting in a “digital” world. This is a topic that is very near and dear to my heart. As a mother of two, I find myself constantly challenging my own beliefs about the role that digital media plays in my and my childrens’ lives – and this is coming from someone that has studied digital media for more than 10 years!

I have spoken to many parents about this issue and found that there are range of concerns when it comes to “digital parenting”. How do I know if my child is being exposed to explicit content on the internet? At what age should I let my child use Facebook? Is SnapChat appropriate for my pre-teen? Should I let my child play video games?  

That last question is one that I get quite often. By far the most common questions I receive are about the effects of violent video games in particular. This includes questions such as,

  • Will playing violent video games will desensitize my children to real-world violence?
  • Will playing violent video games make my children more aggressive?
  • Will playing violent video games increase the likelihood my child will commit a violent crime? Even slightly?

It is not hard to see why parents have these questions as if we take these claims at face value they may seem to have some validity. If someone is exposed to something explicit, those behaviours may seem less extreme (desensitization) and our children may re-enact them as they are being modelled through this media (i.e., aggression/violence).

This is where I’m going to start challenging beliefs about the influence of the digital world on our children, taking the last point as an example.

Many parents are concerned that playing violent video games will their child more likely to commit a violent crime. Indeed, if you turn on the TV at any given hour you are likely to see violent video games being blamed for one horrendous thing after another (playing violent video games was already linked to the recent Las Vegas shooting).

However, this claim is completely unsubstantiated in the research. There is no evidence of a direct link between playing violent video games and committing violent crime. (for more on that, see here). Parents are often surprised to hear this as link between violent video games and violent crime is so deeply imbedded in our culture. It truly has become the “go to” excuse to somehow justify why people commit violent crimes.

As is evident from just this one example, when we take a moment to challenge some of our beliefs about digital parenting we quickly realize that it is not all black and white. This is not just true of video games, all aspects of our digital lives (e.g., texting, social networking, online blogging., etc.) are ever “all bad” or “all good”.

Now what is it that we can do with this information? I know that parents don’t have the time to research every new claim about how smartphones or texting or video games are negatively impacting our children in one way or another. My suggestion is to start dedicating a few minutes a day to “digital mentoring”. What do I mean by this? I mean taking the time to:

  • Talk with our children about how to use the internet responsibly
  • Research specific devices and applications for our children
  • Ensure they are consuming age-appropriate content
  • Connect with our children through technology

By setting aside a few minutes a day to digital mentoring we can begin to transform our digital experiences from a source of conflict to a source of conversation and connection for our families. Over time, it will also ensure that we are teaching our children how to responsibly navigate the digital landscape that they will inevitably encounter in our digitized society.