In brave new world for parents, even those with expertise turn to the new experts

I love a good expert. As an 18 year old copygirl and cub reporter at the Sunday Mail in Brisbane I was amazed at the detail and craft and checks and balances of the people in the newsroom. In a chambray shirt and headband I loved being in the home of Queensland Newspapers running up and down the lino hallways to take the pages to the printers.

They were a passionate and diverse group of old hands and young idealists. There were serious editors, two librarians to serve up photographs and background material and sub-editors whose eyes rarely left their terminals. There were lawyers I never clapped eyes on. It was a romantic place that reinforced my TV watching view of news breakers.

I wasn’t the Lois Lane I thought I might be and instead worked as a researcher and a writer for magazines where the deadlines and stories were longer and less likely to impact the government or company of the day. I did my share of tabloid interviews with grief-stricken families and interviews with Hollywood stars. The process of gathering and checking and filing the stories was fascinating. We had time. And there was no internet.

Researching articles, books, stories took a lot of library work and ringing around, double-checking data from government agencies and sometimes going to schools and workplaces. The sources of the news gathering were in buildings and universities and stock exchanges, filing cabinets, police stations around the country. Not at your fingertips online.

My kids can get more material – from Napoleon’s favourite colour to whether Pluto is still a planet – faster than I could (and can). And when I can talk to them about finding good sources for their assignments they can point me to edublogs and google classroom.

Like all parents of young kids I spin out every now and then about what the web brings into my home, the ideas, the images and invasions into privacy that are so removed from my own youth. My parents and their community of friends and relatives and my teachers were the filters I relied on. Our kids have to learn to be their own filters.

We have some rules about their use to protect their privacyWhat I said at 11 is rightly forgotten. What our kids post at 11, is online forever. They know how to manage their privacy settings they know what they post in haste can get them into trouble and that relationships can be more fragile online.

Even so, their idea of what is private is very different. My very proper grandmother would say we don’t talk religion, politics or sex. And other people’s stories are for them alone to tell. These kids want to share every detail of their day. They organise their schoolwork, their sports, their activities in bubbles of friends online.

So there’s capital-P privacy and there’s privacy. Kids think privacy means anonymity. They all want to establish a world online and be known to their peers and be known for something. Whether it’s what they are wearing, to their soccer scores.

But it’s not all selfies and photos of meals.

Kids are learning about being discerning. They are learning critical thinking and discovery. Taking for granted that things will keep changing and fast, they’re interested in content and entertainment and new. They’re asking more questions about what they should believe online and what’s junk.

For journalists sorting the wheat from the chaff has become an enormous challenge. They’re bound to get some facts wrong. And for those who don’t care about getting it right it’s easy to publish and be damned. But for me, a daughter of public figures and the wife of a politician it means constant explanation and clarification with my kids.

Harvard University’s Pew Internet researchers suggest the digital generation will learn new skills in how to manage social media and the unwanted intrusions of commerce and dodgy dealing and porn. Studies are showing that, although they seem like they want to be celebrities for doing nothing, and the stereotype says teens in particular will post anything online, it’s not quite true.

Kids are concerned about privacy, but their notion of what’s private, what stays in the family, whose stories are confidential and which subjects are taboo are changing. I’d like to put my faith in my kids and a bet that they will be picky and discard the fiction some bloggers, know the facts when they see them and stick up for their online identities.

Privacy and safety go hand-in-hand online. I trust the kids will work out with each other how to manage their privacy settings and how to tell if there is a stranger to be blocked, an app not to be trusted or that what goes up doesn’t always come down.

They are developing online management skills and adapt as new things come up.

I’m a big fan of expertise, in my professional work life I enjoy the brilliance of engineers and technologists and specialists that come up with astonishing solutions to complex problems.

I apply this same approach to my parenting whenever I feel like I have no idea what I’m doing. I’m a consumer of parenting books and subscribe to sites like and the cybersmart site and religiously follow Susan McLean’s advice on Twitter. We make an effort to talk at home about censorship and cyberbullies and stalkers and ecommerce and we return to privacy, again and again.

In public life we have the privilege of experiencing both big and private moments of community life. I like to think the kids are learning about how to be sensitive and yet savvy to these experiences.

We spend time together at home and work, if we didn’t we wouldn’t see the parliamentarian who lives with us. This exposes the children to new experiences and some of them haven’t been pleasant, but like the way they are managing their online lives, I have faith in this astonishing generation that they will prevail.

And I still love a good expert.

1 Comment

  1. I too love a good expert
    equally I love brave people who can bring together personal and political experience
    great piece Chloe

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