30 September 2013

Time to take our heads out of the sand....



A little over two years ago, my eldest daughter commenced her Secondary School education. And what an education it's been - in more ways than one!  You may recall her big wide eyes as she regaled stories of "boys using the 'f' word in the corridor" and people no longer holding doors open for one another.  At 11 years old, she was probably rather naive by most people's standards, but she was incredibly innocent, something that I cherished.  

Two years later, things have changed and rightly so.  Like most of her peers, she is the proud owner of a smart phone, has her own Facebook profile and is regularly found on What's App (a free messaging service).  I am sure it won't be long before she discovers the wonders of Instagram and Twitter, in fact most of her friends already appear to have delved into this world.  For a 13 year old in 2013, this is normal life -   instant communication via the internet, is where it's at.

Over the last few days, I've come across two articles involving young teenagers and the internet; both of which left me cold....

The first was in the Daily Mail and was written by Martin Daubney, ex-editor of Loaded magazine, the popular lad's mag which first appeared on newsagent's shelves back in 1994.  Having left his role in 2010, Martin was questioning whether Loaded is partly responsible for introducing a certain generation of young people, to the world of internet porn.  He interviewed a number of year 9 students (13-14 year olds) and the results were quite simply, shocking.  I won't elaborate on the detail but it's definitely worth a read.

It would appear that hard core pornography is widely available on the internet, not just to adults but to children as well.  Of the 20 'well turned-out, polite, giggly and shy' year 9 school pupils that Martin spoke to, every single one of them confessed to having seen sodomy acted out in a pornographic film and they all agreed that this kind of thing is readily available.  Today's young teenagers think nothing of emailing pornographic images and films to one another's mobile phones, meaning that even if they wanted to, they cannot get away from it....

"If one of your friends 'likes' a clip on Facebook, it pops up in your own news feed. It's disgusting".  

When questioned, none of these 20 children had any kind of parental controls on their PCs at home and their response was that their parents 'trusted them'. Surely this is either utter naivety on the parent's part or a total lack of interest.  Martin Daubney puts it like this:

'Letting our children consume it (pornography) freely via the internet is like leaving heroin lying around the house

The second article was written by a fellow blogger, Maddie Sinclair from Gammon and Chips.  14-year-old Izzy Dix, a close family friend of Maddie's, took her own life last week as a direct result of cyber bullying. Izzy was a regular user of a popular Latvian-based social networking site called Ask.fm, where people pose questions to one another anonymously.  

For some time, Izzy had been on the receiving end of severe bullying and intimidation by other users, to the point where it had a devastating affect on her and sadly, she made the decision to take her own life. Tragically, Izzy's story is not uncommon, in fact last year, two sisters committed suicide within weeks of each other, both deaths linked to the same website.  They were aged just 12 and 14.



How can we help our children?

With one daughter in the same school year as the children in Martin Daubney's profile group, and another just starting her secondary school life, this is a subject close to my heart. I believe that we should be taking active steps to safeguard our children.  What can we do as parents?
  • Make sure all home devices have free protective software on them (there are various programmes available, we use K9 web protection)
  • Make use of the age appropriate settings on Ipads and other Apple devices
  • Don't allow smart phones or internet access in bedrooms
  • Adhere to Facebook's minimum age of 13  
  • If they do have Facebook or other social networking accounts, set them up yourself (making sure privacy settings are in place) and insist on having the password and/or have them as your 'friend'
  • Ask for passwords of their mobile device (you don't have to be continually checking it but the thought that you might, should be enough of a deterrent)
  • Keep communication open and try to remain up to date with the latest trends in social media
  • Join me in signing this petition for the government to shut down Ask.fm.
In today's internet-driven culture, where pornography is so instantly accessible and more and more chat rooms and social networking sites are available, we have a very difficult job as parents. With the increase of smart phones, I have no doubt that our children will find a way around the systems we put in place, but I do believe that if we set sensible guidelines while they are young and keep dialogue open at all times, this will help.

We must take our heads out of the sand and do all we can to stop this stuff from polluting our children.

Do your children have regular access to the internet?  Do you have measures in place to restrict what they have access to?  Can you add  to the safe-guarding suggestions  above?  How do you feel about the current internet-driven culture that we are in?  

I would love to hear your views.....


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33 comments:

  1. Really glad you wrote this article. Just this evening my daughter(who has just started secondary school) told me that her homework was to write a blog post on what cyber bullying is and the effects it can have. Trying to raise children in this day and age is scary!

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    1. Isn't it Emma? We just need to do everything we can to protect them. Thanks for commenting, looks like your daughter's school are taking it very seriously which is a good thing.

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  2. Fantastic post! It is all so scary. It's unbelievable what kids are exposed to these days and how accessible it is. I'm lucky that my kids haven't started social networking yet, but it's only a matter of time.

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    1. Personally, unless we have a good reason to, I don't think we should completely restrict all access to social media. However, putting sensible measures in place is vital in my opinion.

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  3. I am afraid that as a secondary teacher this sort of thing is all too common. Only today we had our local Police talk to Y7 assembly about the dangers of the internet. It is illegal for anyone under 13 to have a Facebook account but when the police asked for a show of hands for who had one, the majority of children indicated that they had. As a parent of younger children I am already concerned about how to teach them to use the internet responsibly, but it is not an easy job and like I said above once children get to secondary, it becomes almost impossible to police what they are viewing. Your advice though is good - I just wish more parents would think in the same proactive way

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    1. To me that's shocking - why are parents letting children on facebook so young? They don't need it! Quite a few children I know have had an account from the age of 8, just ridiculous. I think schools should definitely be involved and I know that it's a very real concern for teachers. Parents have to be on side though, so many just ignore the issue.

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  4. Thanks SO much for posting this Suzanne! And for linking up to my blog post, our Izzy Dix Anti Bullying Memorial page on Facebook, and of course, the Petition. I really appreciate your support.

    With our petition, we would all like to see the closure of Ask.fm, as we think the negatives far outweigh any potential positives that site could offer, given its anonymity feature. But more than anything, we want the government to take notice of our concerns and agree that so much more needs to be done in order to keep our young people safe online. We also want to raise awareness in parents (the very task you've just massively helped me with, so thanks SO much!) and demand more education programmes for schools and community groups, and more support programmes for victims, bullies and parents. The way bullying is dealt with legally needs to be addressed, and we want commitment from police forces to treat bullying as a serious matter rather than brushing it under the carpet as sometimes happens, as we all know what it can lead to if nothing is done about it.

    Can I please urge everyone to sign the petition? And to share it with family and friends on Facebook, Twitter, Email and Word of Mouth? It really is important and we want Izzy's legacy to be one that helps young people all around the world. Thanking you all in advance for your help and support. Maddie from Gammon & Chips xoxo

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    1. I'm not entirely sure that Ask.fm offers any positives Maddie, having looked into it. Raising awareness amongst parents is vital I think but if schools ever put informative evenings on, it's always the same parents who attend - the ones who already have measure in place because they are aware of the dangers. I will keep spreading awareness of this, it's so important.

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  5. At only 4 years old my boys are too young for social media, but when the time comes, with their tech geek dad they will be hard pushed to look at anything on the home computers we don't want them to access.

    Whilst I do worry about the vast amount of information / imagery available to children today, I think we should also be looking in to why they want to view it, as regardless of what parents do to limit access, they will find a way to view it.

    Many children do something just because it is taboo, they want to rebel, I fear that by limiting certain things, we may only make it that much more appealing to children to seek out.

    There is no easy solution, but hopefully, the recent tragic deaths resulting from cyber bullying will not be in vain

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    1. I think the reason why most of them want to view it is out of curiosity. Some of this will be solved by us being willing to discuss anything with our children, and making sure they are aware that communication lines are open. There will always be the occasions however, when peer pressure takes over. For me, that's when serious prayer kicks in!

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  6. Oh, and I meant to say that Izzy's death is now the 10th suicide that has been linked to Ask.fm in less than a year. Most in the UK and Ireland, but US too. So tragic!

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    1. I looked into this too Maddie, I was shocked and appalled.

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  7. I read both the Daily Mail article and Maddie's post and like you they left me cold. Unfortunately, I think the ability to police this outside the home is almost impossible. I think that your comment above about being open and talking about these things to our kids is perhaps the only way around the situation in addition to putting parental controls in place. If we can educate our children on what is normal and what is not then perhaps the want to continue watching this stuff over and above initial curiosity will be minimal. I don't look forward to this phase with my 2 particularly as we have about 5 or 6 years before it really becomes an issue. Does this mean it will be worse still? I hope not.

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    1. Having watched the programme last night Charlie, I think educating our children on what is ok/normal, is absolutely vital. Communication is key and by remaining open to all sorts of questions (no matter how graphic) this will hopefully avoid them feeling the need to look up questions. The reality is however, most children would feel embarrassed talking to their parents about a lot of the things they are inquisitive about. As you say, this is only likely to get worse :(

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  8. My son's just under 4 and already this is something that I worry about. The internet pervades our lives. Sometimes it feels like he was born with an ipad in his hand! And how do you control his access as he gets older and more independent? It's a frightening subject but better to, as you say, take our heads out of the sand and look at it so we can come up with positive strategies to deal with it. An important subject and a great post. Thanks.

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    1. I do hope Mary that sensible plans are put in place and that parents are made better aware of how to do this. Google have a tool which is incredible easy to install - safe search - which helps on home PCs but it's the smart phones, taken outside of the home, which are difficult to 'police'.

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  9. A lot of it boils down to parents educating their children properly about the dangers the internet can pose. My daughter is 14 in January and I won't allow her to use Facebook or any other social media platforms. I'm not a harsh parent but I know the dangers and I know how vulnerable my daughter is. I don't want the added stress of having to monitor her every step when she's online. She doesn't need to use social media. Maybe it is the in thing these days but I have no intention of putting her at risk from predators whom she won't be able to detect for herself. Yes, some of her friends do have FB and chat on social media, but because I've emphasized the risks in no uncertain terms without pussy-footing around the issue, she's made the decision herself that she doesn't want FB.

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    1. Absolutely CJ, I totally agree with you about parents educating their children. I spoke to my daughter in great length before she started using Facebook and she's actually not on it very much. As you say, each child needs to be taken into consideration when we talk to them and if our child is very vulnerable, then this needs to be addressed accordingly. It sounds like you and your daughter have come to a very sensible conclusion together.

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    1. Yes, so important isn't it? I have one of the message services only on my ipad, which means i can see what is posted. Their mobile devices are unfortunately android and mine are apple. If I was doing it again, i would probably take this wise piece of advice. Thanks for commenting.

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  11. Such an important post, S, thank you for writing it. Its something I'm unconsciously dreading, with my eldest only 2 years away from Sec Sch, when she'll be introduced to all this. Currently are kids have v little exposure to gadgets and stuff, but i know that will (have to) change. Your blog is so helpful for flagging this very very imp issue. We are, after all, pioneers in parenting in this kind of way, so feeling our way in the dark isn't too strong a term. One tip i'd add is a friend of mine with older kids has all their devices linked up so that when her eldest (13 too) messages in her room it pops up on their iPad/phone, and she knows that. Lets keep up this conversation. Its so imp. I'm off to sign that petition.....

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    1. I think that now is an excellent time to set the boundaries Siobhan, some of them are so simple - Google safesearch is one - just set it up on all your devices. Your suggestion above is an excellent one :)

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  12. I read Martin's article and felt sick. Horrified, sad and sick. It makes me want to do everything in my power to both educate and protect my boys. Protect them from seeing porn as normal and educate them in terms of being respectful to women.

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    1. I do home that better protection comes into play soon. But I agree that teaching our children from the comfort of their home, is the best way. I am certain you will be great at it.

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  13. This is a terrifying but extremely valuable post. Thank you so much for writing it. At just 3 and 1, mine are too young for all this, but I know it'll come round all too soon. I wonder where internet safety will be by the time they reach the same age as yours? Hopefully better, but I'm going to get myself clued up now just in case.... thank you again. x

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    1. I don't think we can start early enough. I'm still sure that there are more things we can do to protect them and I hope that in time, it is communicated clearly and concisely. The TV programme on Monday night was even more shocking.

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  14. Izzy's case was truly tragic, and it is foolish for us to think that 'our' children won't access adult content, or at least try to. Thought-provoking post, and I'm signing the petition as well.

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    1. Yes i think that parents often think that their children won't....the reality is that children are curious. With the arrival of the internet, it makes it easier for them to look up the meaning of that word they hard at school the other day. Frightening. And yes, Izzy's case was shocking but sadly it isn't an isolated one :( Thank you for signing.

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  15. I listened to a very interesting segment on the radio a while ago about the impact of increased access to pornography on today's teens. The insights given by some of the young men interviewed were quite shocking. Pornography had infiltrated their minds and their lives to such an extent that it had left them unable in their (early 20's) to have a 'normal' relationship. I found it so sad.

    As a mother of two sons, I will certainly be looking to restrict access to unsuitable sites in our home as they get older, assuming I can keep up with technology enough to enable me to outwit them! Joking aside, I think that honest open dialogue and close family relationships are increasingly the only way to deal with the issues that social media and the internet throw at us - but it always strikes me that you have lots of that in your family - I hope it helps :0)

    Great, thought provoking post.

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    1. I think that keeping up with technology is absolutely vital, although I'm not sure how easy it's going to be. Your last point is the one we should focus on - open and honest dialogue. Thank you for your kind words, it means a lot. x

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  16. Signed. My 12 year old has no smart phone, and can only use his laptop downstairs where I can keep an eye on it - but I have not been able to find a parental control software that doesn't block out stuff he wants to see (and is okay) as well as stuff he shouldn't :( I've never caught him looking at anything inappropriate though...

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  17. This was an excellent and necessary post, and is something that I think about a lot. My children are both under 5 but I know that these issues will affect us very soon - we let our daughter look at Peppa pig on the iPad once and then discovered she had stumbled across an episode of a very naughty Peppa doing non-PG things. My husband and I often say that each generation has pushed the boundaries, but to an extent the generation before them could relate. Now our children are growing up with an influence and impetus we did not have as children - where we are internet immigrants they are natives, and with that comes opportunities and danger. I agree that as well as implementing controls in the home, the only way to manage how they see or react to things outside the home is in how we parent, and in the values and morals we instill and in keeping lines of communication open and ensuring that they don't fear us judging them so that they can openly talk to us about what they hear or see. Keeping up to date with current trends in terms of social media is also crucial so that we are aware of the spaces they are interacting in. I will definitely be signing this petition, and will happily post on my blog also. Thank you for this x

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  18. In some ways, I look forward to the time when this topic is relevant to my kids, because I feel very blessed to have this opportunity, with children of my own, to try and encourage and nurture some counter cultural values re porn (and many other things) and hopefully they will be able to subtly influence their friends and so on. This is the only way we can change the world: one person at a time. And as parents we have a unique opportunity to teach our children to walk to the beat of a different drum.

    Obviously, the only reason I can 'look forward' to this time is because it still seems quite far away and abstract! I'm sure in ten years time I will be terrified for my kids' safety online and what they might be gettin gup to when they are not under my direct control...

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