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“I’m fat,” said my 8-year-old daughter one evening, looking down critically at her perfectly smooth, normal, 8-year-old-girl tummy.

I hastily informed her that she was absolutely not, and didn’t need to worry at all about things like that. But as she continued with getting ready for bed, pacified for now, anxious questions were swirling around my mind. Did I say the right thing? Should I not have shrugged off her concern but sat down and had a serious conversation about why she said that? Or would that have weirded her out, so that next time she might not say anything to me, but dwell on it inside instead? And then, my thoughts turned to the future: how can I approach this situation next time? How can I stop the world from influencing my daughter’s thoughts so much that one day she might develop an eating disorder, or sink into depression, or start self-harming, or worse?

In a world of perfect insta-filters, thousands upon thousands of self-help reels and tiktok tutorials and AI-generated photos and videos, everything an impressionable young child sees is classified by her brain as real. Even grown-ups are frequently fooled by fake news, misleading advertising and clever AI, so how can we expect our children to be able to accurately fact-check everything they are seeing? As parents, how can we protect our children from this total inundation of media? This world is a very different place from the one we grew up in, and so we have no experience of our own to fall back on when teaching our children the ways to navigate life. This all seems as new to us as it is to them.

Into this dark, tangled mess comes a shining light. Katharine Hill, in her book A Mind of their Own, shows us that despite the new and different challenges the next generation are facing, the principles of parenting are much the same. With all the advantages that the latest scientific research has given us, Katharine shows us how can build our children up to be emotionally resilient, to flourish in a fast-changing world, and how best to support them as they grow more independent.

“Sometimes I think that the best thing I could do as a parent is to get rid of all the technology in the house. Throw away all the phones, unplug the TV, get rid of the tablets and the PlayStation. Ban it completely.”

 It would be a good detox for me and my husband as much as for our children! But far from effectively dealing with a developing bad situation, it would actually just be masking the real problem. While the constant flow of media into our lives is definitely overwhelming, a lot of the issue is to do with the way we allow ourselves to be dominated and controlled by it. The doom-scrolling through other people’s Facebook lives (that conveniently leaves out the nitty-gritty and only presents the very best or funniest parts), or the viral videos we absently watch because they give our brains the instant gratification we crave, are literally sucking our lives away. And if we aren’t very careful, that is the legacy we are going to pass on to our children, unless we make a concerted effort in the opposite direction. It’s so easy to pile on the praise every time our children achieve, and just ignore them when they don’t. The very fact that we find our phones more interesting than our child showing us a wonky cartwheel is teaching them a rather unpleasant lesson. So how can we undo the damage, and change the trajectory of these precious lives we are accountable for?

With a sympathetic, unjudgmental attitude, Katharine Hill gives us practical ideas, action points and well-thought-out activities in each chapter of the book that can help us to be more present with our kids, to come alongside them in a world that seems mainly against them, to be their faithful guides, partners and friends, to be the one constant in life who always has their back. Because, as parents, that is what we should be doing. It might be that the way to that has changed, we might find we need to pay more attention to allowing them to fail, to help them accept that they can’t always be the best in everything, and to make sure they know that it’s ok to be ordinary in a world that seems to be full of extraordinary people, but the job is as it always has been; to support our children as they grow and help them become independent, happy and flourishing adults.

Every parent needs A Mind of their Own in their back pocket or on their bedside table, as a constant reminder of how we ought to behave. Because we set the example, and our children follow that. Let’s make it an example we want them to follow!

A Mind of Their Own: Building your child’s emotional wellbeing in a fast-changing world by Katharine Hill – out now.

About the author

Fi Boon is a freelance writer and editor and has written a number of children’s books. She grew up with a passion for reading and hopes that her stories will inspire the next generation. Fi lives in Reading, UK, with her husband and three children, who all still love a good bedtime story every night.