To Bebo or not to Bebo – that must be an old one

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I’ve just dropped by Ollie Bray’s blog and read his post about a family-oriented internet safety training evening that Musselburgh Grammar School held this week.  I would have liked to have gone along but there’s been too much going on this week, so here’s hoping Ross High will run a similar evening in the near future.  (Just nicked your picture, Ollie – thanks!)

I am very aware that my eldest son spends all his spare time at home on the computer – games, BeBo, MSN, Hotmail, Skype and who knows what else. His cousin in Manchester is the same and they chat regularly on Skype and MSN.  Likewise his friends around East Lothian.  I’ve stopped worrying about him spending so much time on the computer for several reasons.  First of all, he does loads of sport and is out most evenings at swimming club, badminton, squash, basketball, allsorts, and he’s frighteningly fit.  Secondly, I know where he is and what he’s up to.  And then he does go out with his mates locally and he meets up with others at his various clubs but dashes home to get on the computer to talk to them in teen speak.  He also reads voraciously and I can’t keep up with his reading any more.  All in all, he seems reasonably well balanced and social, despite his teenage ability to grunt in monosyllables when it suits and his much discussed inability to do any revision for exams. 

This is just the way teenagers operate these days – it might not be what I did as a teenager but I would like to think that life has moved on in the ..mumble.. years since I was 15.  I’m quite sure my mother used to complain that I never talked to anyone and always had my head stuck in a book.  If I’d had a computer then, I know what I would have been doing.

But – it’s that word again! – I can’t pretend to know what he really does on line or who he speaks to or whether we have the right controls in place.  Despite being moderately computer literate, to the extent that I still sort out his computer problems rather than he mine (and surely that shouldn’t be!), I’m not entirely confident that he’s not giving away more personal information than he should.  He could easily be making inappropriate comments on other people’s sites – or his own – without really understanding the ramifications. He could be talking to people who are not what they seem. He could be welcoming viruses and spam.  I don’t know and I have to admit to not being entirely sure how to find out, without turning into an overbearing policewoman.

We have just bought him a laptop for his birthday, lucky boy.  It’s partly a reward for doing well in his exams this year, partly to get him off my computer so that the rest of the family can have access.  It would have been cheaper to have bought another PC, particularly as we already have all the peripherals – what to do with that spare flat screen?  However, that would have meant him disappearing into his bedroom for hours on end and then we really would have no idea what he was up to.  My PC, in the study, is in a very public space as the room is too small to close the door!  With a laptop he is much more likely to lie on the sitting room floor or sit at the dining room table than disappear into his room and so we can still keep half an eye on what’s going on.

It is difficult though – the modern day teenage equivalent of crossing the road and playing outside.  They’re growing up fast and they need enough freedom to learn and to make their own mistakes but you still want them to be safe.

So, Ross High, if you’re up for running an internet safety evening, I’ll be one of the first to sign up.

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2 thoughts on “To Bebo or not to Bebo – that must be an old one

  1. It’s tricky isn’t it. When we first got internet access 10 years ago and my own kids were young teens I did not appreciate just what was available online until I stumbled across some really dodgy stuff. I then put on “parental controls” which worked to some extent but blocked perfectly OK stuff and made my work much harder than it needed to be. We were all using the same PC so I made some rules and regularly checked the history. And kept my fingers crossed.

    There are just so many things our children have to be aware of in today’s world. Maybe they are smarter than we think and actually set their own boundaries. Maybe we are seeing dangers where none lurk.

    Jackie

  2. Yes, I’ve found the parental controls very clumsy. I do think they set their own boundaries to a large extent, particularly if we make them aware of what can go wrong. After all, they do set boundaries with a lot of stuff – friends & activities they choose for instance. I guess it’s just that you don’t want to send them out to play on the motorway – the problem is identifying which bits are motorway and which are minor roads.

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