Is you might find your computer-savvy youngster is more than a step ahead of you.
The modern world with instant global communication and web-enabled devices is increasingly difficult for parents to navigate.
Of course, we want to protect our children from danger – both at the hands of the malicious and by their own naivety – yet, at the same time, we want to equip them to survive.
Most sensible mums and dads follow the accepted best practice of setting up parental control software and talking about the issues with their kids.
Then, what sometimes happens is we parents consider it a job done and continue with our busy lives. I certainly did.
My sons had promised to let me know if anything untoward happened, and had nodded solemnly when I explained that part of the deal was that I would be able to see what they were doing on the internet – any time I liked.
I did check up on what the boys were doing from time to time. While I really didn’t enjoy logging onto their computers and peeping into their browsing histories and email inboxes, I was rewarded by lists of boring – but very safe – gaming sites and some tedious and childish exchanges with school pals. So far, so normal.
Gradually I stopped bothering with regular searches and my guard dropped.
Then one day I discovered that my 11-year-old had got himself a Facebook account I knew nothing about. Oh dear.
Kids are supposed to be 13 before they can join Facebook but, of course, many join before then. In fact, because all his friends were on it my very trustworthy older son did at 12 – on the understanding that I was one of his ‘friends’ and I watched everything he did.
What shocked me about the younger boy’s joining was that I didn’t have a clue, he didn’t ask or tell me and certainly didn’t ‘friend’ me on the web. He was confidently travelling around the internet on his own in ways and to places I had no idea about.
So we had words, discussions and, I thought, an agreement. Then today – a couple of weeks later – I went for a little check only to find his computer and his phone password protected. Oh my goodness – what is he hiding?
While I’m furious that he’s broken our agreement, I am very concerned because he is far more sophisticated at technology than I am and will simply sneak further out of my supervision if he wants to.
Of course, I could ban him from the internet altogether, switch off the router and take away his gadgets, but I’m not sure that’s going to solve it in the long run. Though it may be necessary in the short term.
There doesn’t seem to be an easy solution – and clearly the biggest aspect for us in this house is about trust and boundaries.
Here are some of the suggestions online child protection agency CEOP comes up with:
Be involved in your child’s online life. For many of today’s young people there is no line between the online and offline worlds. Young people use the internet to socialise and grow and, just as you guide and support them offline, you should be there for them online too. Talk to them about what they’re doing, if they know you understand they are more likely to approach you if they need support. Tips on how to discuss tricky issues with your child.
Watch Thinkuknow films to learn more. The Thinkuknow programme has films and advice for children from five all the way to 16. Your child may have seen these at school, but they can also be a good tool for you to find out more about what young people do online and some of the potential risks.
Keep up-to-date with your child’s development online. Be inquisitive and interested in the new gadgets and sites that your child is using. It’s important that as your child learns more, so do you.
Set boundaries in the online world just as you would in the real world. Think about what they might see, what they share, who they talk to and how long they spend online. It is important to continue to discuss boundaries so that they evolve as your child’s use of technology does.
Know what connects to the internet and how. Nowadays even the TV connects to the internet. Your child will use all sorts of devices and gadgets; make sure you’re aware of which ones can connect to the internet, such as their phone or games console. Also, find out how they are accessing the internet – is it your connection or a neighbour’s Wifi? This will affect whether your safety settings are being applied.
Consider the use of parental controls on devices that link to the internet, such as the TV, laptops, computers, games consoles and mobile phones. Parental controls are not just about locking and blocking, they are a tool to help you set appropriate boundaries as your child grows and develops. They are not the answer to your child’s online safety, but they are a good start and are not as difficult to install as you might think. Service providers are working hard to make them simple, effective and user friendly. Find your service provider and learn how to set your controls.
Emphasise that not everyone is who they say they are. Make sure your child knows never to meet up with someone they only know online. People might not always be who they say they are. Make sure your child understands that they should never meet up with anyone they only know online without taking a trusted adult with them.
Know what to do if something goes wrong. Just as in the offline world, you want to help your child when they need it. Therefore, it is important to know when and how to report any problem. What tools are there to help me keep my child safe?