Why Parenting At 17 Years Old Inspired Me To Be A DigCit Parent

Joanne Sweeney Burke and Sophie Burke Digital Citizenship Summit

“I don’t know how to do this. I don’t even know who I am or what I should be. But I know I have to do this.”

I don’t often start posts on this blog with a personal insight, however it is most relevant for this story. I became a mother at the age of 17 and the above quote is what I said to myself 21 years ago as I lay in a hospital bed with Sophie sleeping in a glass cot beside me.

I was overwhelmed with responsibility, fear and unfortunately loneliness. I loved this tiny black-haired, brown-eyed baby with my whole heart, but I didn’t know if I was capable of giving her anything, not to mention everything that she needed to grow into a strong, independent woman.

Would you believe that I always looked at Sophie and imagined her as a young woman? I wanted her to be stronger than me. I wanted her to be more confident than me. I wanted her to be happier than me. I wanted her to fearlessly take on the world, safe in the knowledge that the world needed her beautiful mind.

I watched her on stage on Twitter this week as she told the gathered audience at the global Digital Citizenship Summit how Generation Z were navigating the social web and leaving their digital DNA all over it.

In that moment as she smiled over at me, there was nobody else in that room. It was just the two of us.

Sophie Burke speaking at Digital Citizenship Summit

I got a flashback to the 14th September 1995 and I knew I had achieved what I had set out to. JSB had done it. Filled with fear and without a roadmap, I had raised her to have everything that I didn’t have as a young woman.

That’s why the past few days in San Francisco have been so special for me. I felt a huge sense of personal accomplishment that means more to me than the associated professional accolades.

Parenting in the Digital Age

I opened our presentation on the second floor of Twitter Headquarters on Market Street with a tale about being suitably equipped to parent Sophie in the early noughties as she began using social media. It was this experience that both inspired, and compelled me, to be a proactive digcit parent.

When Sophie was 13 I wrote a social media contract for us that we both signed and stuck to. We had a mutual agreement on how she would use social media and how I would respect her use of it once we kept to the rules.

Young Minds Online Social Media ContractEight years later this social media contract would become a resource shared with the 300 million customers of Internet security company Kaspersky Lab. Our experiences allowed us develop resources for parents, Gen Z’ers, corporates and educators.

Sophie and I take to stages and boardrooms, schools and classrooms to deliver our digital citizenship messages. We are living in remarkable times and the social web provides us with endless opportunities to connect, share, inspire, motivate and co-create but we must do it safely, being social web savvy and with an ethical approach.

When you empower yourself with knowledge, the fear evaporates and the passions flow. The fear I felt as a 17-year old single parent reminds me of the fear parents feel trying to navigate the social web with their children. But there is no need and that’s why I am filled with passion to share our positive parent/teen experiences with anyone who wants to listen.

Sophie was central to the development of seven modules four years ago that would become Young Minds Online and which was added to a curriculum in a Galway school for one academic year. By road-testing the resources we were able to iterate and tailor the content for other audiences.

The speed of digital and social media change means that we are always writing our content from scratch or seriously updating it.

We are now collaborating with the Digital Citizenship Institute in the United States and the inspirational Dr. Marialice Curran, co-founder of the Digital Citizenship Summit. Like Sophie and I, Marialice is a practicing digcit parent and her 10-year old son Curran is an ambassador for plurals the world over. His role in DigCitKids is remarkable and he is another example of how the children growing up in the digital age can have a positive impact on their peers.

Embrace the social web, don’t diss it

Our message to parents is to equip yourself with knowledge and be a digcit parent because you can. If you need help, just reach out and ask. Sophie and I will help as will the entire #digcit community that Marialice Curran and David Polgar have created by creating the Digital Citizenship Summit.

Jump on Twitter and type in #digcit and you will find us all there!

Sophie Burke Digital Citizenship Summit


I want to congratulate Sophie on her debut US speaking engagement and for making me smile every day.  That dark-haired, brown-eyed baby has grown into a beautiful woman who has taught me how to be happy and confident, and sure that this world needs my beautiful mind too. 🙂

Marialice Curran, thank you for responding to my tweet and for welcoming us into your community with such warmth and positivity.

We are so excited to partner with you and spread social savvy vibes across the globe.



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