Documentary Offers New Look at Raising Kids in a Digital World
We share some highlights and talk with a local expert about how we can protect our kids
The world our children will inherit is a stark contrast to the one we grew up in. Gone are the days of newspaper routes and playing kick the can in the streets until dark. Stranger danger is no longer a guy in a windowless van who lures kids with candy. It’s a “Hey, Baby” private message on a device. The new documentary Childhood 2.0, streaming on Amazon Prime and YouTube, explores the reality of raising kids in a digital world.
The 90-minute film relies on testimony from parents and kids, as well as child safety experts who discuss issues like anxiety, depression, addiction, cyberbullying, online predators, self-harm, suicidal ideation, and pornography. “Parents are not using technology the same way kids are,” says Dr. Free N. Hess, a pediatric ER physician. “They can’t even wrap their brain around it enough to know what to be afraid of.”
For many parents, the film is difficult to watch. You’ll find out why they’re so addicted to the online attention, how showing more skin equals more likes on Instagram, and how their online status boosts their popularity at school. Then there’s the cyberbullying: when you’re not tagged in a photo, receive unsolicited nudes, feel pressure to return the favor, and get ostracized anyway.
“It’s not a matter of if, it’s when it happens to your child,” says Chris McKenna, Founder and CEO of Protect Young Eyes, an internet safety educator. “All this equates to living in a low grade state of anxiety, all the time.”
The documentary will break your heart and awaken your protective instincts—but it won’t let you off the hook. “Parents suffer from a disease called the NMK syndrome. It’s described as ‘Not My Kid,’” says Richard Wistocki, a Cyber Crimes Detective in Naperville, Illinois. “My kid won’t do that; my kids’ friends aren’t like that; my kids’ school isn’t like that. Any kid as the potential to do any one of the things we’re talking about here, even my own kid,” Dr. Hess adds. This is why every parent needs to see this film, and if you have a teenager at home, decide if it’s appropriate to watch together.
For parents of younger children who aren’t yet ready to discuss these issues or watch the film, there are some steps you can take now:
Delay access to personal devices, online game, and social media platforms until kids are mature enough to discuss the dangers. Then set expectations prior to giving your child access to a new device, social media app, or video game. “It’s much harder to roll back time and access when children have already become accustomed to it, and power struggles can become intense and disruptive to family life,” says Dr. Tara Egan, a Charlotte-based therapist and founder of Charlotte Parent Coaching.
Enact all parental controls. “Use technology to monitor technology,” Dr. Egan says. “Even though parental controls aren’t fool-proof and should not replace attentive parents, they can be excellent tools to minimize your child’s exposure to inappropriate content, set time limits and alert you when our child is in over their head. Apple Screen Time, Google Family Link, Bark, OurPact, and Circle are several such tools.”
Limit daily screen time. The key is setting specific times when kids are allowed to watch TV or play on their device. For example, let young children watch 30 minutes of television while you get ready in the morning or when you prep dinner in the evenings. With older children, you can download a tracking app to monitor which apps they’re using and for how long. Based on that intel, allot a certain amount of time they can use their devices for social media or entertainment. For more realistic strategies, check out Melanie Pinola’s column in The New York Times’ newsletter, Smarter Living.
Even with these safeguards in place, children still aren’t immune to online dangers. We can set up every online parental control possible, but older kids will often find ways to bypass them. We can delay access to devices until our kids are driving, but that only breeds resentment and distrust. So how do we connect with our kids before they create “finstas,” a.k.a. fake instagram accounts?
Dr. Egan reminds parents to create a balance. It isn’t just about monitoring their actual time spent on technology, she says, it’s about keeping them engaged in real-life activities. This includes spending time with family, getting enough exercise and sleep, eating tech-free meals, and getting plenty of eye contact, physical affection, and distraction-free conversation. “When kids have a full, rich, satisfying ‘real’ life,” she says, “they’re less likely to resort to entertaining themselves solely via technology.”
TONYA MILLER is a Charlotte-based freelance writer.