Unlock door. Open door. Go outside.

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes
A locked hiding place I spotted hidden in a forest. I wonder who has the key.

First, a quick admin note for my dear readers, all three of you. As may be obvious, I’m on a blogging hiatus. In addition to being physically and mentally flat, the little bit of energy I do have has been appropriated by the Jobcentre. (For those outside the UK, that’s the place I have to visit weekly to prove that I’m legitimately looking for work in order to receive just enough unemployment benefits to eat and do nothing else.)

So, yes, I have nothing to say and no energy to say it with. So don’t expect my usual erudite drivel for a while.

But. That being said.

I was just gabbing with my neighbour about their wonky puppy gate, which the puppy is very obviously strategising about, and it gave me a flashback to something that happened in my own parenting journey – with my kid, not a puppy – that does, perhaps, have something to say about our current policy debates.

When my kid was a tiny thing, we lived in a bad flat in a bad close on a bad street in a bad neighbourhood. And the flat we lived in had a high snib latch on the front door. Small, curious, mischievous children being what they are, one day I found that she had pulled up a stool to the bottom of the door, stood on it, unlatched the snib, and gone out into the close.

Now, as a parent, there are two ways you can react to that.

One is to lose your shit, drag them back in, slam down the snib, remove the stool, scream at the child until they’re a crying mess, and send them to their room sobbing. You could then have a little meltdown yourself about how your child unlocking a door, and going into the world without you, triggered all your fears about your child’s safety.

Two is if you’re me and you do what I did.

Which was to look admirably at my little scamp and say:

“That’s awesome, kid. You know how to get out of here in an emergency.”

And I let her back into the flat giggling, gave her a proud cuddle and a Fruit Shoot (that stuff solved anything), and had a really nice talk with her about what else she might do if there was an emergency which required her to leave the flat for any reason, whether that was to save herself or get help for one of her parents.

Because unlike Type One parents, there’s something I understand instinctively:

The lock meant to keep a child safe might be the very thing keeping them unsafe.

So rather than projecting all your own fears and insecurities onto your kid, you help your kid – as I did – to understand why the lock is there and what it does, and why it needs to say locked, and why she should not unlock it and go wander without telling a parent, because she is not, in fact, Dora the Explorer.

(But, if you want to go play Dora together, let’s totally do that!)

At the same time, you need to help your kid – as I did – to understand why they might need to do exactly what she did. Unlock door, open door, go outside. And once there, where they might go for help after that, and who they might ask for.

Because that’s the other thing I understand, not so much instinctively but from lived experience:

Your parents aren’t always going to be there.

In fact,

Your parent might just be the thing you need to get away from.

And you can never raise a child to behave, or think, or act, as if the opposite was true.

Nor can you ever raise a child to live in fear of what’s outside the front door, in fear of the parent who’s going to slam it shut, or in dependence on the parent to be the one who is going to close it.

So it’s truly scary that the exact opposite of all that is currently a public policy stance, both in the UK and abroad.

And as the never-ending debate about how to keep children safe online turns to the technosolutions of parental helicopter surveillance and monitoring, age and identity checking, content monitoring and filtering, app bans, and state censorship of topics deemed not to be “age-appropriate“:

I worry that what we’re really at risk of creating is a generation of Type One parents, projecting their unresolved neuroses – fueled by a steady stream of broadsheet hysteria – onto their children. Projecting your fears onto your own child, of course, strips your child of the ability to shape their own identity, while failing to equip them with the emotional resilience they need to keep themselves safe as they make their own ways in the world.

And what a vicious cycle that could become, as the parents with the least emotional resilience themselves become more dependent on technology for their own wellbeing than the children who are actually meant to use it.

So me, Type Two to this day, can’t help but think that as these bad debates become bad law, a lot of children will need to start doing what my now-grown clever clogs once did:

look at the snib and figure out how to unlatch it.

Whether that snib is a physical latch on their front door, or a state-mandated app restriction on their phone.

Because that just might be how they will learn to stay safe.

Header photo by me: a locked gate spotted on a walk in the woods. I’d love to imagine something fun about what’s behind it, for example, a band of rebels planning a raid on an Imperial garrison to steal the quarterly payroll for an entire sector, but it’s merely an access gate to some pipes at a water treatment plant.

The Author

I’m a UK tech policy wonk based in Glasgow. I work for an open web built around international standards of human rights, privacy, accessibility, and freedom of expression. The content and opinions on this site are mine alone and do not reflect the opinions of any current or previous team.