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In the era of the digital age where technology is such an integral part of our lives, we have to make a choice of whether to raise our children as digital orphans, digital exiles or digital heirs. Here (as well as in the video above) we’ll explain what exactly that means and how you can best prepare your children for success in their digital world.


What Is a Digital Orphan?


Think of a digital orphan as you might an orphan in real life, with minimal supervision. A digital orphan is a term to describe a child who is left to their own devices (pardon the pun) when it comes to their use of technology. They’re allowed to use the internet freely with no parental controls. In effect it’s the parenting style of a “digital enabler”.

This happens where a parent trusts their child to figure out their way around the internet for themselves, with the thought process that their child is tech-savvy so should be OK. It doesn’t take into account that although the child may be smart enough to instinctively find the information they’re looking for, they don’t have the life skills or emotional intelligence yet to be safe and responsible online.

The skill set required to behave appropriately online is significant – many adults struggle and fail to get it right. And it isn’t something a child is likely to figure out without making a heap of mistakes. Unfortunately the mistakes children commonly make online happen very quickly and easily, and can have detrimental effects on their lives for years to come.


What Is a Digital Exile?


A digital exile is a child whose internet use and access is significantly restricted by their parents – the opposite of a digital orphan. Obviously parents restrict internet access in the hope of preventing their child from seeing inappropriate content online, as well as preventing them from using social media until they’re at least 13 years old. This digital parenting style is that of a “digital limiter”.

Parents who raise their child as digital exiles have their child’s best interests close to their heart. They believe they’re taking the most responsible action possible to protect their children from the dangers they’re well aware of that exist online such as internet addiction, cyber bullying, predators and more. And it’s very tempting to just lock out the bad stuff that goes on in an attempt to protect the innocence of our children for as long as possible.

There are several problems with raising children as digital exiles, and when you consider these problems you can soon see why this style of parenting paradoxically places your children in the most danger in terms of getting themselves in trouble online.


1. They’ll See It Anyway


Children who are raised as digital exiles are going to see inappropriate content online whether you want them to or not. It’s only a matter of time. Not every parent restricts what their children can see or do online, and so your child’s friends will show them what they can see on their devices, which may or may not have parental controls installed.


2. They’re Not Given The Chance To Build Resilience


Given the huge role that technology plays in our children’s lives, the challenge we face as parents is in teaching them to be resilient in the face of bad things that can happen. Hiding the facts only encourages naivity, which will not keep your child safe in the real world. How can you teach your child how to be resilient and effectively deal with the unfortunate things that happen online if they’re not given the opportunity to see any of it in the first place?


3. It Creates An Us-And-Them Mentality


From a very early age your digital exiles will be aware that other children have more online access than they do. Peer pressure and human nature will mean your digital exiles will want the same access as their friends have, so they will use their tech-savviness to get around the parental controls you’ve installed. And it’s not likely to take them long to succeed. Worse still, often when they do succeed you may not realise what they’ve done.

At this point you have children who know they’re accessing sites you don’t want them to see, who are likely to get themselves in trouble. And when they need help online they won’t want to come to you for fear of getting in even bigger trouble! This leaves them very vulnerable and exposed.


4. Digital Exiles Often Lack Self Control


Depending on your digital exile’s personality, they may want to rebel if they’ve been held back from doing something they want to do, such as opening an account with Snapchat or Instagram. Once they open these accounts they’ll want to spend plenty of time there, often more time even than digital orphans. The initial excitement may wear off but there’s a good chance the damage will already be done by that time.

Not only are digital exiles likely to spend way more time than ideal using screens, perhaps more importantly the content they’ll want to access may be worse. These children are more likely to view porn and other inappropriate content online than other children.


5. Digital Exiles Can Be Very Deceptive


Given the knowledge their parents don’t want them being online or accessing certain sites or apps, digital exiles become very good at covering their tracks and hiding their history. In one way this can be a good thing, as their activities may be harder for advertisers and strangers to track. In another way it makes it harder for their parents to know what they’re actually getting up to.


Digital parenting for digital orphans, digital exiles and digital heirs


What Is a Digital Heir?


A digital heir is what we need to aim for as parents, and mirrors a mentorship style of digital parenting. A digital heir is given the opportunity to access the internet (which could be with some parental controls) along with the guidance they need to help them use it safely. Allowing online access and then teaching children how to be responsible for using it properly come hand-in-hand; it just doesn’t make sense to do one without the other.

Think of the internet like a loaded weapon. You wouldn’t just hand your child a gun and wish them good luck, tell them to use it properly and then walk away. Yet the potential negative effects of being online are just as bad. Many lives are lost and ruined unintentionally due to children not being given the information, guidance and support they need to be safe and happy online. Being tech-savvy may be instinctive for all of our digital natives, but being emotionally intelligent online is not.


How Do You Raise A Digital Heir?


Great question! Knowing how to keep your children safe online is complex, like a hundred piece puzzle, and unless you have all the pieces and you know where they belong, your children can easily find themselves in trouble and potentially in danger. Unless you devote a large portion of your “free” time (what’s that?!?) to figuring out the ins and outs of online safety, it’s unlikely you’ll even find the pieces of the puzzle, let along figure out where they go.

For a much easier and less time-consuming way to learn how you can keep your children safe online, register for my next Peaceful Digital Parenting online webinar here. It doesn’t cost you anything to attend and if you can’t watch it live don’t worry, by registering you can watch it on video as a replay. I look forward to seeing you there 🙂

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