“No I’m not, I’m just interested. Do you know all the people on your contact lists?” ❓
“Of course I do. Do you think I’m stupid?” 😡
“Well, anyone can see those pictures you’ve put on.” 😕
“No they can’t. It’s private. And I haven’t put my surname, or my age, or where I live. Go away.” 👿
So I did. I went and googled GP1’s name, then GP2, and I couldn’t find either of them. I was mildly reassured but note – mildly. I have done this before but in a fairly desultory sort of way. Tonight, though, I was just back from the school where I’d heard how easy it is to work out where someone lives from a miniscule amount of information on Bebo or such like. And where we’d been told about grooming children via social network sites and instant messaging. We were told about online bullying and inappropriate language. How it’s impossible to erase stuff once it’s on the web and how potential employers will be looking at a person’s online presence when they’re dithering over an appointment. There was an example of transferring revealing photographs via mobile phones and how children can be committing a criminal offence and can be labelled as Sex Offenders, when perhaps they haven’t really understood the implications of what they were doing.
There was lots more. I thought I had a reasonable idea of what the boys are up to on line and what the risks and issues are, but I discovered I didn’t know the half of it. For instance, I have questioned them about who they play with when they’re on line with the XBox, but it hadn’t occurred to me that you can set parental controls (other than shouting, or even the Off switch, that is) on said XBox. If you get along to one of the Internet Safety Evenings that East Lothian is running, you should definitely go. If you can’t manage a physical presence, this may be the next best thing.
If I had one gripe with an excellent (if something that scary can be excellent) evening, it was that the emphasis in the various videos used was on the risk to girls from predatory males. Whilst the vulnerability of girls is perhaps the most immediately frightening aspect of social contact on the internet, the risk to boys shouldn’t be underplayed (and see ExPat Mum’s comment on this).
Whatever the dangers, I’ve no intention of blocking access for the boys to MSN or Bebo or the XBox. I’d rather have parental controls operating and make sure they learn to behave responsibly on line, just as I’d expect them to behave responsibly when they’re round the dinner table or on the bus with their friends. I would of course be quite happy if GP1 spent a little less time affixed to one machine or another and a little more time on his chemistry homework, but that’s a battle to come. The most powerful parental control is probably not the one built in to the machine but the parents themselves; we need to know what they’re up to on line, just as we should know where they are if they’re out and about with their friends.
And after all, it would be a bit hypocritical to ban access completely. A thought flitted through my mind as Ollie was talking about children arranging to meet strangers they’ve talked to on the net – should I really have chanced meeting Mother at Large and other bloggers for coffee? Stranger Danger! And, as GP1 pointed out this evening in that very acid tone of voice that only teenagers can adopt: “A burglar would only need to read your blog and they’d know far more about us and exactly where we live.” Touche.
So, for any potential burglars who may be reading this, could I just point out that we’ve already been on holiday this year so you’ve missed your chance. And we’re never, ever going on holiday ever again so don’t even think about scanning my blog for a vacant sign.