I had never watched Love Island but I tried to tune into season 6, here’s why.
Love Island is a career option. Honestly! I know this is hard to believe, with fake news and all that, but apparently, when faced with the option of going to university and racking up huge dept for no defined career, versus using your social media influencing and going viral to attract a lucrative sorted-for-life get rich and find a lover, there is a choice to be had.
I believe reality TV like this is an important influence on the future of work. Not just because it is a career option but because it normalises the lives of the fabulously outrageous contestants. I have worked with people in their twenties rearranging their faces on a monthly basis. Facial surgery used to be the reserve of genuinely old people whose necks always gave away their ages anyway. Now it’s a weekend activity for the under 30s who live at home and have not yet had any wrinkle inducing sprogs. These same people have little interest in how the company that pays their salary works.
Aidan my oldest son is nine and his three friends who don’t have phones are getting them for Christmas (apparently). His teacher is telling me she had a phone when she was 11. Hello! it was a Nokia 3310 with expensive rates and the most advanced distractive technology other than single recipient messaging was the game snake. I really don’t think that compares to a smartphone with camera technology that if set up unsafely is a gateway to every weirdo in the world.
I have fond memories of how revolutionary my Nokia 3310 was and enjoying the distraction of snake. Do you recall this era? ...When texting was limited and you did not send nonsense because that would cost you. To have banter you had to go to the pub and you could read the faces and body language of the recipient and decipher whether your engagement style was welcome or not.
I was reminded of this skill this week when I went to a ‘Growing up online’ session run by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection command of the Police (CEOP), hosted at the kids school. The police officer told the story of the distraught family she had been counselling that week. The 15 year old son had misread the tone in an online conversation and skipped past the winking emoji and jumped right into sending a pic of his penis which was not well received. As this is a sexual offence the police got involved and thank God they did, because the police have talked him down from this being ‘an end of the world event’ and have encouraged his to think flirty not dirty next time. Meanwhile his mum and dad think he’s a sexual deviant and are eroding his every moral fibre. What do they really know of a world growing up online anyway.
15 years ago there were no dating apps. Whilst we laugh at how useful that technology would have been in reconnecting with people we had chatted to but not exchanged details with, we also laugh at the actual low chances we would have connecting with our spouses in 2019 as our data would not have matched us.
The Girlsoutload organisation posted a statistic that 95% of girls want to change their looks. I’m pretty sure that was the same 30 years ago when I was 6 but back then but in comparison we lived with our physical imperfections and knew that our inner beauty would triumph and shine through. We did not have the consuming habit of taking an average of 400 photos for the perfect post. I’m looking forward to AI solution that will intervene when your image conscious child is losing their self esteem.
The first thing I did as a self employed mum was reduce my hours away from home and spend more time with my two boys. I spontaneously took them to the skate park three evenings in the first week after I had collected them from school. Every trip was noteworthy.
Day one, the boys played football with another boy whilst I chat to his two Mummies and they enlightened me on why they loath Fortnite. It's not the violence they dislike, it's the bullying about skins. Skins are the expensive digital clothes sported by their Fortnite killing avatar. These costly outfits are the cause of school yard bullying, between those who can afford the kits and those who cannot.
Day two, the park is heaving. My boys are there to conquer the drop-in off the high half-pipe. Two boys join us, one is well rehearsed in drop ins, the other has just learned how to do it the previous week and you can see it’s a new skill. They say mastering a new skill comes when you teach it to someone else - he has kindly encouraged my boys not to be afraid and to follow him and try. Before he’s convinced them, he has in fact dropped in and dropped off. Poor lad has face planted with his hands still on scooter and not protecting his face at all. I’m first on the scene and there is blood everywhere. This boy has already assessed that his front tooth has gone and he will not look up, he’s adamant he wants to die and life is not an option. I’m devastated to hear these words but assume its a reaction to the pain. My boys are truly disturbed and decide to postpone the drop-in attempt until they are wearing more protection.
Day three, we are back at the skate park full padded and with the dare devil girls from next door. Their mum jumps out of planes and races motorbikes, I know my boys cautious approach to drop in is inherited from my adversity to physical risk . Plumes of smoke are billowing out from behind my boys, there are some cocky kids vaping behind the half pipe. I later find out that they are calling Aidan a wimp whilst he’s poised ready to drop in / face plant (we never found out). He’s okay with that, he’d rather be a wimp than a heap of broken bloody bones. My sensible boy. Before the drop in attempt occurs, there is havoc in the park and I’m not the most anxious mother anymore. Two groups have formed and there are unpleasantries being slung about with no consideration for the adults on children in earshot. They are trying to resolve the Instagram case that they are not permitted to talk about whilst it is still in the hands of the police. The most anxious mother is the mother of the boy who is still in primary school who has escalated the case against the boy who has just gone to high school. My phone rings, it is the father of the boy who broke his tooth yesterday to thank me for my assistance. He updates me that that his son’s teeth are the cause of a lot of bullying and it has recently stopped him socialising over the half term even with this close friends. He was not exaggerating when he said he hated life, bless him. I now decide to stop worrying about my teeth and lead by example.
I was an early adopter of closed private internet networks. I joined Facebook in 2007. I had a lot of so-called friends as I flitted between three homes in Hertfordshire, Cheshire & Newcastle. Culling and ghosting was unheard of. Trolling had not started. On the birth of my first child in 2010 I had to deactivate my account. Promoting how debilitating and isolating breastfeeding and motherhood was was not ‘a thing’ back then. I felt alone and can recall there is nothing like loneliness and isolation to make one feel down in the dumps. I had to find another outlet to my social me online. I enjoyed twitter. The hashtag gave me solace. I knew that I could feel connected with people who had similar interests. It kept me sane whilst I was limited to staying at home and fending for my children. I now enjoy Instagram after self therapy from Ruby Wax Frazzled. What worries me though is how these companies monetize their existence, is there really that much value in my data?
I wanted to share these experiences as my kids are exploring more and more social independence and my priceless job as parent has changed, it’s a promotion I’m not qualified for yet. More hard lessons for me and I cannot turn to my parents for help because they are seeking my help in their online life too. My boys (7&9) want phones for apps I have not heard of, they think they can’t live without them. Protecting their innocence and building their resilience is my parental responsibility. I don’t want to stop them from enjoying tech, quite the opposite! I just don’t want tech to stop them from enjoying the beauty of discovering how brilliant it is to be unique and not bullied into normalising when their difference is their greatest asset. But most importantly in a world where there is an app for everything, I want them to be able to think for themselves so that they have rewarding jobs in the future.
Written by Jenny Barnes' as a personal contribution to the Flex Appeal. ivity team are advocates of digital skills in the workplace which enable flexible working. The technology is there and we are helping spread the skills and confidence to achieve flexible working so parents can fulfil their parental responsibilities and have rewarding jobs by challenging PANTS ways of working.
Oh and I ran out of time to watch Love Island. I was too busy bailing my parents out of ransomware clickbait cons.