Digital parenting in front of a "Black Mirror"

In this digital world full of both opportunities and risks, imagining visionary scenarios of how technology can affect our lives frequently arise with questionable combinations of privacy, artificial intelligence or virtual reality for our future digital lives. Yet, while most of these scenarios still seem improbable for today's reality, often parents cannot help but wonder if this will reflect their children's future reality.

Frequently referred to as the Netflix series that provides a dark yet thought-provoking perspective upon the present and future of digital technology, Black Mirror tackled the topical issue of digital parenting in its latest season

"The key to good parenting is control" asserts "Arkangel" in a thought-provoking manner as the subject of one Black Mirror's season 4 episodes. It narrates the story of a single mother who faces the prospect of losing her child following a momentary lapse of supervision while at the playground. In order to allay her fears, or perhaps even feed them, she seeks out a new technological product that enables constant supervision of her daughter through a tablet: she inserts a chip inside Sarah's head, which then allows her to monitor, see and censor through Sarah's eyes.

With her early years passing by, the mother's need to keep up this type of monitoring Sarah reduces, and the product is actually removed from the market. However, when Sarah becomes a rebellious teenager, her mother immediately goes back to the Arkangel tablet to undertake obsessive monitoring; monitoring which tragically destroys their mother-daughter trust and, ultimately, their entire relationship.

The Arkangel episode was reviewed in numerous publications such as The Guardian and The Atlantic, specifically examining aspects of digital parenting. Moreover, the Black Mirror series was reviewed by Common Sense Media as being suitable for those 17+ in terms of audiovisual-media content, highlighting that there are references to social media like Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, as well as similar but futuristic technological concepts, like a Tinder app that helps people find their true love by using computer simulations.

While much attention has been placed on digital parenting in the fourth season of Black Mirror, another online safety example is given in an episode from the third season. "Shut up and dance" introduces the issue of child sexual abuse material (CSAM) when a youngster is blackmailed by unknown hackers who access his computer and ultimately publish his unlawful online behaviour, bringing it to the shocked eyes of his mother.

More generally, Black Mirror highlights various tech issues that may arise when parenting in today's digital society ranging from excessive gaming, to data storage, to artificial intelligence and online dating. One of their most disruptive elements, incorporated memory, may seem futuristic to say the least. Nevertheless, online services that young people are already using on a day-to-day basis may reflect what could be an emergent form of this prospect: for example, in 2017 Snap released its Spectacles which act like a video memory tool, with its features allowing users to access those videos afterwards.

Between digital trust and sharenting, minors may rely on their parents to understand their digital lifestyles, but the complexity of these alone can sometimes overwhelm parents. The concept of helicopter parenting undoubtedly existed before the digital era, but technology adds an extra layer of complexity to escaping parental control and supervision. With new customised apps that supposedly facilitate dialogue between parents and their kids (for example, the pilot Facebook's Messenger Kids), digital parenting frequently highlights excessive use of technology not just by children, but also by parents themselves.

Through the Better Internet for Kids (BIK) line of work, Safer Internet Centres (SICs) in Europe have tackled this issue, creating resources to support parents in their digital developments. Examples include:

  • The Danish Safer Internet Centre published a series of videos raising awareness about digital parenting behaviour.
  • The Norwegian Safer Internet Centre held a workshop on ‘total control'.

To find more resources on digital parenting, available in various European languages, please see our Resource gallery and our Guide to Online Services.

Additionally, a number of external stakeholders have also created publications and resources on the topic, including:

Linked to the potential impact that such audiovisual media content can have on children, see also the BIK article on another highly-debated Netflix series, 13 Reasons Why.

Netflix is a streaming service that allows customers access to a broad range of series, movies and documentaries via internet-connected devices. To use Netflix, you must be 18 years of age, or the age of majority in your province, territory or country. Minors may only use the service under the supervision of an adult. For more information, check the Netflix FAQ section and its Terms of Use.

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