The young desire not merely to be understood, but to be understood by telepathy; not merely to be permitted to tell their troubles, but to be prevailed on to do so. The more care they take to conceal their feelings, the greater their disillusionment if one fails to discover them.

Sarah Caudwell

As youth workers, we know that what we do to support young women is important, but that their parents or guardians are the most significant influences in their lives. Youth workers need to work with parents if we are going to ensure that young women and girls are ready for the digital era. Parents like Awino’s mother may have no experience of the digital world themselves, and other parents, like Mrs Waceke below, may not know how to parent in the digital era.


Mrs Waceke is worried. She looks concerned at her twelve-year-old daughter curled up on the sofa with her mobile phone in her hands. She is no longer interested in the television series they were watching together although it is her favourite. 

Three months ago, she bought Fatima her mobile phone. She had thought 12 was too young for her to have a phone, but Fatima insisted she needed it for the school’s online platform. In any case, as Fatima’s father pointed out, all her classmates seemed to have one. Initially, all was well, but after a while, she noticed her daughter spending more and more time on her phone. She also put in a complicated password and would seem to hide it when she was not using it. 

Then she slowly began to withdraw from the activities she had earlier enjoyed. For example, she made excuses not to go swimming or to a friend’s party. She was no longer interested in television programs or movies.

Mrs Waceke wonders what to do about it. The next day, Fatima would go for a scheduled outing at the Wamila Girls Club. Mrs Waceke considers speaking to one of the youth workers about her daughter.

As youth workers we need to be ready to identify these issues, but more to talk about them, and to encourage parents to talk about them with their children. There are apps [The Best Parental Control Apps for Your Phone in 2022 ] that wealthier and more digital-savvy parents may choose to install so that they can prevent their children from accessing content such as pornography or certain apps, but not all parents will be able to use these. 

No system is perfect. If children want to get around the limitations imposed by parents, schools or youth clubs, they will likely be able to do so either by using unmonitored devices or finding ways to wipe their devices clean of the controlling apps. Young people can be ingenious at getting round systems if they really want to, and predatory content creators are also eager to enable this.

Talk about digital safety

Older children (and young adults) will have legitimate concerns about their parents monitoring their phones and invading their privacy. Like with most things, it’s good to help young people to understand why you want to limit a certain behaviour rather than just setting rules and restrictions that may otherwise be seen as arbitrary.

Young people as leaders in digital safety

Young people are often the most digital-savvy in their families. They could also be entrusted with keeping young siblings or parents safe from scams or unsuitable content. Giving them responsibility may ensure that your whole family is better protected and that they are too – could your youth club help them to develop these skills?

Reflection Questions

  1. Why is Mrs Waceke right to be concerned about Fatima? What issues here concern you? 
  2. Think of Fatima’s story. As a youth worker, how often do you speak to the parents of the girls you work with?
  3. It would be easy to confiscate Fatima’s phone, thinking she is just addicted to social media. But she could be addicted to a game or a victim of cyberbullying, which could worsen it.
  4. Would you feel confident talking to Fatima or her parents about these issues? Would you be able to direct them to online resources to help them become more aware and take action?
  5. How does your youth club work to keep parents and guardians aware of the issues affecting their daughters?

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