Follow along as Jennifer Pinarski shares her experiences about giving up her big city job and lifestyle to live in rural Ontario with her husband, while staying home to raise their two young children.
Before I had children, the only songs I knew the words to were Christmas carols. So, for the first few months of my son’s life, we hummed “Silent Night” to try and get him to fall asleep (the irony was not lost on us). When another mama introduced me to Raffi’s “Baby Beluga”, a whole new world opened up before me. Sure, I couldn’t sing very well, but my babies never cared that I couldn’t carry a tune. Singing the silliest of songs to each other soon became another way our family bonded and played together.
When my son and I were invited by parenting educator and psychotherapist Andrea Nair to see Raffi perform at Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto, plus meet him backstage after the show, it was literally a dream come true! I had the opportunity to talk to Raffi again once he returned to his home in Salt Spring Island, BC about his new book Lightweb Darkweb, the need for social media reform, his hopes for this generation of children and what it’s like to be back on stage.
As a parent blogger, I really feel like it’s my burden to help make social media a better place for our children and each other. Do you think that bloggers can become stewards of the Lightweb?
I love that phrase, “stewards of the Lightweb”! But please don’t think of social media reform as a burden but as responsibility, and maybe even an opportunity to help others. As social media users and bloggers, parents can optimize the Lightweb and try to curb the Darkweb by being conscious users with intelligent habits. The technology is there to enjoy, but we should enjoy it in safety and in privacy. This move to reform social media is a really positive movement—it’s a chance for dialogue.
I fully sympathize with you in the burden that you feel—parenting was hard enough before social media! Parents are telling me now they feel it’s nearly impossible to regulate their children’s behaviour online. That is why I’m calling for the corporate social responsibility to be exercised by social media platforms to make privacy the default setting so that anonymity doesn’t continue to punish people online. There needs to be accountability with social media use. There’s no real life situation where you can go up and just treat someone else poorly.
Read more: Be kind: Raising kids in an online world >
So yes, let’s champion privacy! We need to be asking the deeper questions of social media and demand safety and privacy by design, not by afterthought. Let’s keep kids off the Internet until they are old enough to understand digital literacy and digital citizenship, which essentially all about a culture of respect. Digital literacy is also about self-protection, even just talking like this is engaging in a fashion of digital literacy. Digital literacy means talking about the opportunities and downfalls of social media and info tech.
What are your tips for parents who may feel overwhelmed about simplifying the shiny tech in their lives?
Televisions and tablets have their place, but parents need to remember that these devices aren’t childminding. These devices are not toys and cost money. Parents need to break the bad habit of reaching for the tablet first. Only when kids are older when they can drive the information superhighway—when they understand the pitfalls—should they be introduced to info tech. For example we have cars, but we’d never imagine letting a child drive one to give them a head start—that’s crazy! Same thing goes for info tech.
So my message to parents is that info tech can wait. In the first years of life, little children aren’t here to learn technology, they are here to learn about the natural world that brought them into being. The organic and real, three-dimensional world of wonders has its own rhythm—different than the fast-paced virtual world of info tech—takes getting used to.
What is the reward of having social media vacations and rules?
The shiny tech and the tools sometimes use us instead of us using them. That’s why a social media vacation of any length is a good reminder to parents of how life used to be before social media. I’ve heard of social media addiction and dependency, with it even causing marriages to end. What’s worrisome is that unless we adults model good social media behaviour our kids are going to pick up all of our bad habits.
Every family should have a social media policy with clearly laid out rules for the use of devices and social media, with every member of the family buying into the rules. Ideas for rules can include no devices at family meals or in bedrooms.
Is there a way we can protect children online and guard against what you call the Darkweb?
Unfortunately, in recent years, the privacy line has been eroded because of social media. My first tip is to keep your private life private. If you’re on social media, use the privacy settings there and be a conscious user. As well, don’t join every social media platform—just pick one or two that you really like. I personally only use Twitter, but I am a conscious user.
To guard against the Darkweb, I think we need to deepen the conversation on social media reform, bring in the CRTC and have town hall meetings across Canada to discuss these important questions of social media reform. You can write to your elected representatives, join grassroot movements like Project Red Hood and read books about disconnecting and raising low-tech kids. Parents can also urge their school boards to install wired, not wireless internet. Awareness is the key to all of these things.
Read more: How safe are apps? >
You’ve dubbed my generation the Beluga grads and have watched us grow up. What are your hopes for my children and other children of the Beluga grads?
My wish is that children today grow up unhurried and grounded in the wonders of the real world. I wish that that we grow to embrace a culture of sustainability and I wish for respect for child and earth. I wish that we move from our current technologies which are dependent on fossil fuels to clean energy and green electronics.
How does it feel to be back on stage?
It feel fabulous! I hadn’t performed in 10 years and when I first came back I wanted to see if I could do it! There are many reasons why I sing. One, it brings me joy. When we come together to sing with our children we give them the gift of music—it’s own own social gathering and ch’i, if you will. Parents are moved by their children’s movements and their smiles are reflected in their eyes. I see those things when I perform—that is the beauty of the concerts I give.
But I also want to say this: those who inspire us in our younger years live in us for a long long time. Maybe in some small way, I hope that I will be an inspiration for those who know me through my music. That makes me very happy.