This post is the second part of a paid partnership with Vodafone. Last week saw me interview their digital parenting ambassador (and Spice Girl!) Emma Bunton for Honestly. Today sisters Emma and Charlotte Robertson of Digital Awareness UK share their expert knowledge on navigating tech and kids…

  • We are two sisters who founded a digital wellbeing agency called Digital Awareness UK

  • We created the company because we love, live and breathe technology and believe that everyone has the right to use it positively, and with healthy boundaries

  • We know this sounds cheesy – but it’s genuinely true! It’s hard to make good choices online, and we’ve never been more energised to spread awareness of the risks and rewards of being part of an increasingly digital world

  • Our parents (both teachers) inspired us to set up the company 8 years ago, back when Charlotte was a YouTuber and Emma worked in Digital Consultancy

  • We soon got to work, supporting families with challenges such as online grooming and bullying through our workshops, content and consultancy

  • Back then we were dealing with Facebook, MySpace and YouTube

  • This was a much simpler time!

  • Fast forward to today and we are lucky enough to support millions through our work

  • We have a wonderfully young and diverse team of people who speak about digital wellbeing to children, parents and employees every day 

  • Every now and then we pinch each other to check this is all really happening!

  • As parents ourselves, we know how challenging digital parenting can sometimes be. Especially during these difficult times when we’re working, learning and doing everything else from home!

  • If we were being honest with ourselves, we would be the first to admit that digital parenting is one of the most challenging areas of parenting

  • And we’d challenge anyone who tells us that they’ve managed to absolutely nail it!

  • But we feel passionately that technology is giving today’s children skills and opportunities we could only have dreamt of. So now it’s up to all of us guinea pig digital parents to make sure our children can get the most out of their tech

  • Based on the conversations we’ve had with thousands of parents around the world, these are the things that seem to work quite well for families…

  • When it comes to screen time, try not to obsess too much over the ‘perfect’ amount of time your children should/shouldn’t spend in front of screens (based on the science out there you’ll probably fail)!

  • Instead, think about the things they’re not doing because they’re in front of screens

  • If you feel like screens are stopping them from being active, getting enough sleep, engaging in face-to-face conversation etc. that’s when it’s time to make some changes and cut back

  • Enjoy screen time together. You’d be surprised how many of our students tell us how much they love gaming or TikTocking with their parents

  • Make sure you stretch out well before embarking on a TikTok dance. Many a hamstring has suffered at the hands of TikTok choreography!

  • Where possible, try and make bedrooms tech-free spaces so that your kids are free from distractions through the night. Try and do the same if you want it to be a whole family effort

  • Ideally, the little ones would only use technology in shared spaces like kitchens or lounges. This way we can quickly jump in if a Peppa Pig video suddenly switches to an unskippable vaping ad!

  • Some families like to have tech-free mealtimes so that they can switch off and catch up on some family banter. Although it tends to be the parents who break those rules : )

  • Which brings us onto role modelling. 80% of parenting comes down to role modelling. The children we speak to often talk about how mum is always using the phone at traffic lights or dad doesn’t look up from his phone before 11am on a Sunday!

  • Be the change you want to see. At the same time, if you slip up and break your own rules on the odd occasion, talk to them about it. Have an honest conversation about why we sometimes find it hard to be disciplined with our tech 

  • When it comes to sharenting, these are the 3 big things we’d encourage any parent to think about…

  • Have you shared their personal information eg. first school attended (often shared via logo on jumper in obligatory cute ‘first day at school’ post) or date of birth (via birthday posts)? This is the sort of information you wouldn’t want to get into a hacker’s hands for example

  • Who is seeing these pictures or videos? If you’re anything like us you have Facebook accounts with people you haven’t seen since primary school, ex-colleagues and people you randomly bumped into at a party in the noughties. Not sure our kids would be happy for us to share private photos with this bunch : )

  • Have you spoken to your child about permissions and given them the opportunity to voice their opinion about how comfortable they are with the content you share about them on social media? Thank goodness our photos are locked away in our parent’s photo cabinet somewhere! Oh wait….

  • Ask your children how much time they feel is a reasonable amount of time to spend on screens on weekends/days. Children are usually pretty fair when they’re part of the discussion

  • Listen to your instincts as a parent, if it feels wrong – eg. your child has woken up with an outline of their phone printed on their cheeks, it probably is wrong

  • Instincts are important in general. Often as parents we get very caught up in the tech and how it works. But if we see something that doesn’t feel right, act on it

  • Parental controls are a fantastic aid when it comes to filtering out inappropriate content, disabling in-app purchasing, setting time-limits etc. Especially with younger children

  • But they are certainly not something to be relied upon. In our workshops we have 8 year olds bragging about how they’ve managed to override their parent’s security restrictions

  • And let’s face it, if your child can’t access something on a device you’ve given them, they probably can at a friend’s house or in the school playground!

  • So as with everything, conversation is key. Finding opportunities to talk to them regularly about their digital lives – their worries, frustrations, the things they are excited about and what they enjoy

  • To help with this, Vodafone’s Digital Family Pledge is a great tool that encourages the whole family to discuss how they use technology and agree some house rules. These can be anything from committing to specific times for gaming, charging your phone outside of the bedroom, say, or simply agreeing what acceptable online behaviour looks like. https://www.vodafone.co.uk/mobile/digital-parenting/family-pledge

  • Make sure conversations are balanced – leave all tech bashing at the door. This is rarely an effective way of changing behaviour

  • Where possible (and we mean where possible) do your utmost not to be too critical or judgmental when your children share stories about embarrassing, dangerous or upsetting experiences they’ve had online

  • We tend to find that behaviours travel underground if children feel that they can’t talk to us about their problems (digital or otherwise) and it’s good to be part of their digital lives so that we can offer advice and support where needed

  • In our experience, there’s never a ‘perfect’ time for when your child should have their first phone or start using social media

  • We’ve spoken to 10 year olds who seem mature enough to manage the risks associated with using social media and 40 year olds who can’t get their heads around the dangers of sharing inappropriate content (we challenge any politician or pro footballer to tell us otherwise)!

  • Conversations with your children about privacy will be some of the most important you’ll have when your child does take the leap into the world of smartphones and social media (no pressure)! 

  • Helping them to understand how the things we share about ourselves and others publicly form part of our digital footprint – something that can’t be erased. This can be a good thing when we share good things and a bad thing when we share bad things

  • Helping them to navigate their way around security settings to ensure they are familiar with exactly who can see what they post is an important part of that conversation

  • Don’t underestimate the importance of sharing challenging life experiences you’ve had with your children so they know you’re human! 

  • We’ve all experienced bullying, being left out, feeling insecure etc at some point in our lives, even if they didn’t play out on Instagram. Talk to you children about how you overcame those challenges and what you learned

  • Critical life skills like how to be resilient or empathetic translate on and offline. These are the most valuable skills we can teach our children

  • Don’t sweat the small stuff, celebrate the wins and remember that we’re all learning as we go when it comes to digital parenting.

For more information, and advice from Digital Awareness, click here, to download your free copy of Vodafone’s Digital Parenting magazine

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