It’s the year 2019 and technology is taking over our lives. Everything we do and say and even the places we go are becoming more and more controlled by computers and robots. It seems like the classic movie 2001: A Space Odyssey has come to life and artificial intelligence is a real thing, bigger and more prevalent than ever before.
Our children are in school and using computers, smart devices and tablets as the norm. Any eight-year-old child, like mine, can now download, edit and “Facetime” their way through anything while the rest of us forty and over try to keep up.
As a parent it’s frightening to know that while your child is on the internet they are exposed to the darkest and most heinous sides that human beings have to offer. Social media was accurately described by Lady Gaga on Jimmy Kimmel last week as “the toilet of the Internet.” And as ironic as that statement may seem coming from Gaga (an always trending magnet in her own right), I simply have to agree. And I’m aware of the additional irony surrounding my own choice to be on social media as well in all of this.
Inside the digital world of multi-platform information being thrown our way, we are constantly faced with burgeoning threats of bullying, sexual exploitation, harassment and incessant trolling. For adults it’s bad enough, but for children it’s on another level entirely.
So you can imagine the worry as a parent that some sick and twisted stranger could possibly develop and launch a thing like the “Momo Challenge.” Parents and children have been talking about this for days if not weeks, and although it was confirmed as a prank, this is what the internet now exposes children to on a regular basis; the underbelly, the darkness, the sickness. The panic that was inspired by Momo was the very same panic that spread to the world of Peppa Pig. Supposedly viral videos of the once innocent Pig doing awful things to herself and others were being shared on social media platforms as well. And although both of these videos have now been dismissed as a hoax or a form of “parent panic” by YouTube and others apps, this does little to make many parents sleep any easier. Once the panic starts it’s not as easy to extinguish; like a raging forest fire seemingly out of control.
Kat Tremlett, harmful content manager at the UK Safer Internet Centre stated that “she was now hearing of children who are ‘white with worry’ as a result of media coverage about a supposed threat that didn’t previously exist.”
“It’s a myth that is perpetuated into being some kind of reality; we almost need to stop talking about the issue for it to not be an issue any more,” she said.
As a parent I don’t know how to stop talking about things like this, and thus here is the crux of the problem. I talk to my young and impressionable son about life knowing he can talk to me about everything and that’s a relationship that I want to endure. I want my son to feel safe and secure and at the same time foster a healthy sense of independence. I monitor what he watches online, which games he plays and what shows he enjoys. What else can I do but talk to him about concerns I have in the hopes that he will listen, feel safe, and come back to me with questions?
I’ll admit that I was panicked over Momo and Peppa Pig and that I did feed into the hysteria. I’ll admit that I did talk to my son about it and showed him pictures about the issue. I’ll admit I felt awful because he became overwhelmed with anxiety and had terrible nightmares. I’ll also admit that I had no regrets for engaging him to open up his feelings about it.
I did my research, I read articles to soothe my worried mind and the thoughts of my son. I made sure he knew that in this instance the information was incorrect and over-exaggerated. This time. But what of next time and the time after that? I know my son will grow older and he will resist my frequent scrutiny of his computer habits, and that he will grow increasingly annoyed and impatient. I do not want to be a helicopter parent. I want my son to be happy, independent and intelligent in knowing that some of what he sees online is not real.
However, it seems that in our current world, my ability to differentiate what’s real from what’s fake is becoming more and more obscured and that’s what scares me most of all.