While there are as many variations as there are mums and dads, researchers have identified three main digital parenting styles. Which of the three best describes you? And which is most likely to keep your child safe, happy and responsible online?
Your 12-year-old wants TikTok. How do you respond?
Your answer can tell you a lot about your digital parenting style - even if you didn’t know you had a digital parenting style.
Maybe you didn’t even know you had one. But if you have a child aged between 2 and 18 - you have definitely evolved a digital parenting style that shapes your thinking and behaviours around how technology is used in your family.
3 main styles
A study by Dr. Alexandra Samuel based on data from 10,000 North American families found three distinct styles of digital parenting: Limiters, who strictly limit any kind of technology use; Enablers, who directly or indirectly encourage their kids to spend time with their devices; and Mentors, who actively engage with the digital world of their children, often participating side-by-side.
The study found positive effects from each of three styles, which were evenly distributed across the study population. “Limiters raise the tough questions about what tomorrow’s world will look like,” Samuel notes.
“Enablers recognise that the digital world will be a huge part of their kids’ lives. Mentors prepare their kids for the digital world, so they can be responsible digital citizens.”
But it was parents who adopted the third style - the Mentors - whose children were most likely to stay safe online.
The children of strict Limiter parents ran the risk of feeling like “digital exiles” when parents withheld technology or ignored its importance in the life of their children. The result? Those kids often seek out digital distractions, take risks and misuse screen-time.
“Once they get online,” the study noted, “it’s the children of limiters who are most likely to get into patterns of repeated, problematic online behaviour.” That included:
“Once they get online, it’s the children of limiters who are most likely to get into patterns of repeated, problematic online behaviour.”
Trusting "good kids"
Enabler parents were at the other end of the digital parenting spectrum. They were apt to show too much trust in their children’s judgment, with a laissez-faire approach characterised by a lack of boundaries. Such parents may mistakenly assume that “good kids” - like theirs - will not be vulnerable to online risks or misuse.
Yet research clearly shows that nothing could be further from the truth.
The “goodness” of children cannot protect them from online dangers, anymore than it can shield them from real-life dangers.
Parents who don’t provide guidance and boundaries for their digital children are setting them up for risk.
Sharing the digital joy
Mentor parents, who accounted for 33% of those studied, emerged as the most successful at preparing their children to participate responsibly in a digital world. Their strategies were all about communication with their children, being open to online experiences, modelling positive behaviours and sharing the digital joy.
These parents were, by far, the most likely to:
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