The Importance of Keeping Kids Safe Online (and How My Childhood Leaves Me Battling Myself)

 

I grew up with an incredibly snoopy mother. She was mentally ill, though never took her medication and constantly dodged monitoring by the mental health services who did pitifully little to protect us. She constantly obsessed with creating conspiracy theories against everyone, mostly against me, my brother and our Dad – her closest family.

Part of growing up with someone like her as a mother was the lack of privacy. Our rooms and belongings were regularly, if not daily, inspected with a fine toothed comb. We were allowed no privacy whatsoever, and anything we did try to keep ‘secret’, no matter how innocent, led to us being admonished.

We would be unceasingly monitored and watched, primarily because she believed we were working against her in whatever way she could justify, even when her theories were incredulously impractical or unbelievable. Even when you are a five-year-old kid and don’t know what ‘conspiring’ even means and you don’t know how to defend yourself from such confusing, convoluted accusations.

She used to know what I ate for lunch at school, who I played with, what I did and with whom.

All the time.

I used to ask her how she knew.

‘A little bird told me,’ she would reply.

I hated little birds and watched them with guarded suspicion.

Her paranoia would sometimes transmit to me. I was suspicious of a watch I wore, a simple children’s watch, because I wondered whether she was somehow using that to keep track of me. How did she do it?

Even as we grew into adults her behaviour continued. It was only a few years ago we discovered she had been keeping journals on us and our activities, diligently monitoring and logging everything we had said or done, in order to ‘report us’ for conspiring against her, should her need arise.

I swore blind that when I was a mother, I would never, ever snoop on my children.

No matter what.

But, I didn’t bank on things such as The Internet being invented.

Now, I understand that my mother is an extreme case. I get that. But still, I find myself in the predicament of ‘do I or don’t I?’

 

It’s not just ‘bad kids’ that are at risk from online dangers

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The thing is, neither my brother or I were ‘bad kids’. We didn’t do anything ‘bad’ that should have given our mother cause for concern. We weren’t nasty, we didn’t hang around the streets until all hours (or any hours, actually, because we weren’t allowed to leave the house much at all.) Apart from Jimmy’s Saturday morning football with his junior team in the local park, we weren’t members of any after school clubs or events. We were pretty confined under her constantly watchful and controlling eye. Whether she was there or not.

What I need to remind myself is that our mother was an extreme case. Most parents aren’t like her, most kids don’t have the same experience as we did and, what I need to remember most of all is that her snooping was not a reflection on us, but a reflection on her. 

Her monitoring was a form of control over us, and not as a means of protection for us. She was seeking information and ammunition to use against us, rather than watching out for us.

Yet the ramifications of this experience which still runs into adulthood – despite my brother and I finally cutting ties with her before his death – continue. And sadly, the ramifications of having her as a role model for a mother leaves me constantly striving to be anything but like her, my greatest fear in the world.

When it comes to keeping tabs on what my kids are doing online, I come severely unstuck on deciding on the best thing to do. 

Ultimately, when it comes to the internet and protecting our children, the issue is not whether a child or young person is ‘good’ or ‘bad’, but whether the internet itself is. And actually, we need to admit that it isn’t all good.

“I mean, it’s scary! You don’t even really want to know what’s going on,” explains teen and youth advocate Kacee Bree Jensen in this interview for WebSafety. “A lot of times parents will say, ‘well, I have a good kid.’ Yeah, you probably do really have a good kid, but that doesn’t mean that they haven’t been exposed to some of these things.”

And that’s the thing.

There is bad stuff out there. There are unkind people out there. There is bullying, there is danger and there are risks.

And the rise of social media and smartphones means kids are prone to exposure to it all, without warning.

 

The Online World is Not a Safe Place

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So here we have a very fine line between respecting our children’s privacy and keeping them safe. I mean, let’s see:

Bullying is no longer confined to the playground – there is no escape from it any more. Perpetrators don’t even need to know someone to bully them, thanks to the internet making the world a smaller place.

Grooming? Well, it happens. And youngsters don’t usually realise what’s happening, sometimes until it’s too late. Pretending it doesn’t exist and isn’t a risk, well, that’s not going to work.

Sexting – well, let me say that I reckon so many people of my generation (God, how old do I sound now?) are thankful that this wasn’t even an option! And yeah, there are quite a few of the kids from my year at school that would have been in deep trouble. Yeah, you know who you are. The truth is, kids are often naive and sometimes plain stupid. Actually, that applies to a great many adults too.

And that only scratches the surface.

The important thing to bear in mind is not just whether our kids would do any of these things themselves, it’s whether anyone they know, or even don’t, anyone that would, could, might or try to, and what the potential consequences and effects might be if they did.

Yes, it’s a scary online world. Undeniably so. But still I tread the tightrope of what, as a parent, my rights are to infringe my children’s privacy and up to what point, whilst simultaneously acknowledging my role and need, as their parent, to keep them safe from anything or anyone that might risk any harm to them – or that they might even do to themselves and others.

 

How to monitor your children online

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Unlike the moral conundrum of whether we should or shouldn’t do so, the ability to monitor our children’s online activities is simple to do, should we choose to. The WebSafety app allows parents to take control of what their children see, do and say online. It’s not just a little control but complete control.

The WebSafety app is packed with features for parents to monitor their children’s online activity. It enables you to see exactly which sites they are visiting and what apps they are downloading, and how they use them. You can see who your children interact with on both social media and through texts. Parents can read the messages that are exchanged and they’ll even get a real time alert should any questionable material, behaviour or exchanges arise.

Undoubtedly, your child will be more careful about what they say and do if they know they are being monitored and you can rest assured that you will be overseeing your child’s safety.

 

After the 30-day free trial the app costs $5.99 a month, or $59.99 a year. I did check the FAQs and cannot find any information to state how many children or devices can be monitored on it. I am pretty sure one account covers all – I hope so! If it’s per child or per device, then it’s going to be very costly indeed if you have several children. I’ll update this post if I can find out the information on this.

Edit: It has since been confirmed that the cost is per family, regardless of the number of children within it. The app covers as many devices as you own, so excellent value.

 

To monitor, or not to monitor, that is the question?

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This is one of many parenting dilemmas I am never likely to be at peace with, and one that I will always question my decision on, whatever I decide.

Quite frankly, Jimmy and I would have been horrified for our mother to have access to something like this. I can only imagine how much harder our childhoods – and even adulthoods – would have been and the thought of it frankly makes me sick to my stomach. But as I conceded earlier, not everyone is like my mother, not everyone has experienced the things that we have, and not everyone would use an app like this for the reasons this woman would have.

I have to admit, the ever increasing risks from the internet seem to be finally outweighing my psychological struggles. With the whole world accessible from my own four walls, there is nothing that guarantees 100% safety. No longer do we have the reassurance of protection from all that is bad, that comes from being even within our own home and the haven and sanctuary it ought to be. The internet is good, but it also can be extremely evil.

I am tempted to try out the 30-day free trial that WebSafety currently has. If I choose to proceed then, unlike my mother, I shall sit down with the children and have a chat about the reasons behind my decision. I hope I can reassure them that I’m not working against them but working with them for the ultimate, universal goal of keeping them safe, and not to gain emotional ammo against them or their behaviour. I implore you to be completely open with your child about the reasons why if you decide to do so too. I know, it’s not about you, it’s totally about me and my psychological burden.

Totally.

But still…

Want to know more? You can find out more about web safety and download the WebSafety app on their website here. It is available on both Android and Apple devices including tablets, and they currently have a 30-day free trial on offer. Thereafter, it’s just $5.99 a month or $59.99 a year.

So what are your thoughts on this parenting dilemma? It’s a complex issue that parents today are faced with, and one that is only likely to grow as technology continues to grow. Need some more food for thought? Check out the articles here that are sure to give you something to think about:

How tech is altering our lives: https://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2018/3/27/17085282/technology-facebook-social-media-sherry-turkle

Screen Time Addiction: The amount of time children 8 years old and younger spend on phones or tablets has increased tenfold in just five years, according to a 2017 study by Common Sense. The organization also found that 42 percent of children under 8 already have their own mobile device. That number was less than 1 percent in 2011. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/03/opinion/sunday/kids-technology-addiction-screentime.html

A Utah teacher asked her 9th grade class to reveal what their parents don’t know about social media and write it on postcards, the results went viral. She asked them to fill in the blank… “What my parents don’t know about social media is ___.”https://www.ksl.com/?sid=46278943&nid=148&title=why-teachers-parents-and-psychologists-are-worried-about-teen-social-media-use

Is monitoring your child’s activities online something you feel is your duty to do as a parent, or do you feel that you would be invading their right to privacy? We would love to hear your thoughts.

*This post was brought to you in association with WebSafety

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