LocHal Tilburg, © Eimer Wieldraaijer, Bibliotheekblad
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No, the public lecture which Collette Cuijpers and Maike Kooijmans will give next week will not be full of empty praise for the digital world. Yet nor should we expect a string of warnings, never mind a lesson on right and wrong. The digital world, where cyberbullying, sexting and telephone addiction abound along with wonderful new friendships and commercial success, is far too multi-faceted for that. What is really important, both Fontys lecturers will argue, is to continue thinking about the choices you make. As a child, as a parent, as a carer or as a teacher.

The public lecture is the second in a lecture series from Fontys For Society with which the educational institution wants to encourage lifelong learning. The theme of this evening – June 27th in the LocHal in Tilburg – is “Parenting in the digital world”. Admission is free, but registration is required in advance. We spoke to the two lecturers ahead of the event.

Today’s children and young people grow up in a diverse, rapidly changing society full of digital possibilities. This provides opportunities, however, it also raises new questions about childrearing. Some parents monitor their children on social media or via tracking devices. There are even parents who buy followers for their children so that they feel popular on social media. “They do it with the best of intentions,” says Colette Cuijpers, lecturer in Law and Digital Technology at the University of Law Avans-Fontys. “But a lot of those accounts are fake and that means you are committing fraud on behalf of your kids. That crosses the line both legally and ethically. What kind of example are you giving your child then?”

In all honesty, Cuijpers understands the parents who do this. “They hope to boost their child’s self-confidence that way. But the consequences may very well turn out the opposite.” Maike Kooijmans endorses this. She is the lecturer of the Parenting for the Future program at the Fontys School of Pedagogical Studies. “Many children are focused on showcasing themselves in an attractive way, especially on social media. They want to meet the widely accepted standard, i.e. that they should make the most of their lives. As a society, we project that every child must want to be the best. But it is precisely due to this performance-driven way of parenting, that there are more losers than winners. Because the bottom line is that only a few get to be actual winners. Then that feeling of ‘apparently, I’m not the best’ can suddenly hit home hard.” Kooijmans wants to unleash a counter-movement to this, one which is geared towards a life ‘as you are’. “A life where you can experiment, make mistakes. And in which we as guardians give our children a lot of time to play, and plenty of room to discover who they are. So that they can build up their self-confidence without necessarily having to be the best.”

Although they realize that the digital world is much broader than this, in their lecture Kooijmans and Cuijpers lay the emphasis on social media. “For parents and educators, this is an all-powerful theme,” says Kooijmans. She observes a paradox: “Like many teachers, parents are extremely worried. This is due in part to a lack of knowledge. They’re the digital immigrants versus the natives who mainly see opportunities. But it is precisely due to the parents’ fear, that a negative childrearing culture is created. While they try to get to grips with this system of likes and followers, they end up digitally following their children everywhere. Well, those kids are very keen to be followed, just not by their parents.”

Apart from the emotional aspect which is linked to this, there is also a privacy aspect to all of this, says Cuijpers. “How wise is it to share everything just to show how awesome you are? This raises questions in both ethical and legal terms. A picture of two boys in swimming trunks is very easily manipulated by someone who wants to take advantage of it. Or a 15-year-old girl who shares a photo in a sexual pose with a 16-year-old boy, could get that boy into trouble. While parents have no idea what Musical.ly of TikTok means, a child sees no harm in recording and posting a film of themselves dressed in just their underwear. Which child thinks about privacy rights, not to mention portrait rights or copyright? Everything seems like fun, but you can also create a lot of trouble for yourself.”

In the end, it always comes down to open and honest contact with your children. Kooijmans: “Of course it can be difficult, especially if you have no affinity with the digital world. Everything seems new and strange. But at the same time, we are also seeing a lot of old patterns. Just like in the past, it is all about guiding our children in their dreams, whether they want to become doctors or influencers. Online is not another planet.”

Parents must decide for themselves what they consider to be ethically responsible and what they do not, Cuijpers adds. “It would be arrogant on our part to claim what is and isn’t allowed. Above all, continue to give it some thought, start talking about it and make agreements together.” A parent’s antennas remain crucial in this respect. “You often have an unerring sense when your child crosses a line. Talk to them about it, but listen to them too. Children can also show you all kinds of wonderful things.”