Protective? Or overprotective?

slide-header.jpg“You’re an overprotective mum. ”  🙄

“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 coffeeStranger 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.

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10 thoughts on “Protective? Or overprotective?

  1. Couple of points – ’cause you’ve really hit a nerve. When I took my 12 year old son for his annual check up last year, our pediatrician emphasized that the biggest risk group is 10-14 year old boys, in terms of pedophilia.
    Secondly, in terms of Internet stuff, you might think they’re not up to much, but a) they will if they can, and b) you would be shocked at the pop-ups. I was.
    Some of the stuff that’s out there right now is a lot worse than the old magazine under the bed, and they are too young to cope with it. I have just installed a really rigorous parental control in our computers. It’s a pain in the a, but worth my piece of mind. I also don’t want my house to be the one the friends come to ’cause there’s lax controls. We have had parental controls on the TV for a couple of years now and for the most part it works.
    Hope this doesn’t sound like a lectue – it’s just something I’ve been through in the last year.

  2. Hi EPM – thank you for your comments -and no, it doesn’t sound at all like a lecture, simply good advice! I wrote this last night when I got back from the Internet Safety session, and it did end up rather late. I’ve just re-read it and it may seem like I’m not taking it entirely seriously. I am taking it very seriously, I promise you, and I’m going to check out all the controls we’ve got on the various machines. What I don’t want is to block their access to the internet. I’d rather that they learn to behave sensibly on line and that they recognise what is safe, what isn’t, and have the confidence to report problems.

    My sole remaining reason for anonymity on my blog is to protect the children’s identity from casual readers (although I know that regular local readers know us all) and I too won’t publish pictures of the family or the house.

  3. Vast majority of people I’ve met through blog are lovely – including you, GPM – but there’s the odd nutter out there too (though thankfully have not met any of them in person, should hasten to add). Blogging often feels like chat with friends, then I have to remind self that anyone could be reading postings. For safety, I don’t post pictures of daughter (not identifiable ones, anyway) and I started out being anonymous, but that fell by wayside. Good to know there are controls you can put in place to protect youngsters. Internet can be scary place. We have to protect them until they can protect themselves.

  4. I just tried what you said, googling my eldest’s name. Up popped 2 sites – one Amazon wishlist, fair enough. And the other? UNDERAGE PORN STAR!!?! Gasp, splutter – palpitation pills anyone? He looked too amused for it to be trouble. Just as well, cos you don’t want to click on that sort of thing if you ever might need Disclosure.

    But should I?

  5. This makes me glad that the internet revolution was only just getting up to full steam when my two were teens. We shared one family computer until each of them went to University – and I am smarter than they realised so I knew where they had been.

    I blog for business reasons and try – really try – to keep details to a minimum, generalise where possible and no names given but so that having an online presence is worthwhile. I still might be an easy target though – but I expect that the fact that you GPM and the commenters realise that puts us in a stronger position. I worry for those who really have no idea at all – genuinely – and I suspect many are much older (ie my age) than the youngsters we are working to protect!

  6. Hi Jackie! I’m sure that the more people who are made aware of the hidden risks, the better; I suspect it’s a little like vaccination and herd immunity. I was very surprised, though, how few people went to the internet safety evening at the school, particulary when it included all the cluster primaries as well as the High School itself. I’m sure most people, myself included, don’t understand how little they know. I hope the council will keep plugging away with these evenings.

  7. And I forgot – One Good Turn. I was surprised that I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as I was expecting, as it had come highly recommended from various sources. I couldn’t quite put my finger on why, but I did like it enough to want to read some others by Kate Atkinson. I think perhaps she just edges into the ‘stating the obvious’ style of writing, although the slightly quirky humour probably makes up for this.

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