Foster the need to protect communication in a digital world

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Foster the need to protect communication in a digital world

Foster carers must encourage communication

Foster carers can encourage communication

Foster carers know that communicating well with a child or young person is their principal goal. Establishing this is fundamental for creating a relationship. It may seem trite to say it, but one person cannot communicate if they do not have the other person’s attention: ideally, this would always be their full and undivided attention. This is not realistic. People’s attention spans fluctuate naturally depending on their mood and the perceived relevance of what is being said to them. This applies to all of us – adults and children alike. But for adults, it has been part of the natural order to command the attention of a child with relative ease. Alarm bells are now ringing: in only a few years, this natural ability possessed by parents has become seriously challenged. All parents – foster parents included – know how easy it is for a child to become distracted. This is entirely natural. For a child, the world is a place of unfolding curiosity and critical to their comprehending the stream of new and novel stimuli, is the mental space to reflect. This is why children so often appear distracted. Parents have always naturally, and without much thought, been able to attract the attention of their children. But imagine now a world where this has become a near impossibility. A dystopian realm where mothers, fathers, grandparents, aunts, uncles and; of course, foster carers, can’t ever get their children’s attention. Even if they do, it is fleeting to the point of being practically meaningless. Could such a place ever exist? Perhaps not overnight. There are disturbing signs that we may unwittingly be journeying to such a world. And much faster than is realised. 

The proof this is a risk is contained in the results of a recent study. Amongst a series of findings, perhaps the most disturbing one is that online devices are coming to completely dominate the lives of children. When asked, 39% of children stated that they ‘could not live’ without their mobile phone. In an incredibly short period of time, such devices have become an integral part of the lives of most young people. Youngsters are admitting to feeling fearful of being without their phone and over half of the children in the study said that they spent with it by their bed. The report’s authors, Childwise says children are spending around three hours and twenty minutes every day on their phones. Most children now own a phone by the age of seven. And by the age of eleven, it was found that ninety per cent had their own phone and ownership was “almost universal” by the time youngsters were in secondary school.

A research director at Childwise, Simon Leggett, said this – 

“could be difficult for parents. The moment a child owns a mobile phone, it can be a challenge to monitor what your child is accessing online because it’s such a private technology that most keep, literally, close to their chest.”

Foster the need for boundaries. 

The report also says that most children are accessing the internet on their phone. If over three hours are spent each day on the phone, after schoolwork is taken into account, there is precious little time for families to communicate. The amount of time itself is worrying. How many of us spend over three hours on a non-related work activity every single day. But this is what children are now apparently doing. And it seems there is nothing to suggest that this dependence will not grow. Should society be comfortable with this? Are any questions being asked about the dangers of appearing to just accept the situation? Or should it be challenged and the way we allow – especially young children – to interact with devices be resisted? The most sensible thing to do would be to follow the precautionary principle. The horse has bolted and the stable door is not going to be shut anytime soon. This means we have to accept that children have these devices. It does not, however, mean accepting so much time is allowed for their use. February sees the annual ‘Safer Internet Day’ with a commendable amount of effort around the globe alerting parents and children to potential risks. In recent years, many of these have been quantified meaning people understand what is meant by grooming and cyberbullying. What needs to happen now is for attention to be paid to the consequences of a breakdown of communication between generations – driven by technology. There isn’t much time for this because the technology is itself becoming ever more seductive. Young people need to be engaging with their parents, not their phones. Or at least nothing like the same extent. Foster carers and all parents need to be encouraging literacy. Reading books to children when they are young promotes interaction and bonding between parent and child. Continuing to encourage children to read when they are older is vital. Books stimulate the imagination and build vocabulary. Information is absorbed at a steady rate without the distraction of ‘pop-up’ adverts and alerts for social media. 

There is a genuine paradox: smartphones are miracles of communication technology. Of that, there is no doubt. But they are also now a severe risk to the kind of natural human communication that has made us what we are which is something that developed over eons. There could be nothing greater at stake.

Start an amazing journey today: become a foster carer with Rainbow.

We are looking to recruit new foster carers in London, Hampshire, Birmingham and Manchester immediately. We want anyone fostering with Rainbow to be able to develop their career with us in a number of directions. This could result in looking after sibling groups, teenagers or a disabled child. We have been providing caring homes for over twenty-one years. Rainbow, therefore, understand foster parents – just like children, come in all shapes, sizes and varieties. 

Your status is not a bar to fostering.

This means we have foster parents who are single/divorced/married. We also have couples who live together – with or without children. In addition, Rainbow Fostering has same-sex couples fostering children and young people. Our LGBT+ foster carers make a tremendous contribution to our community of carers here at Rainbow.

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