Digital Parenting – A brave new world

In a few weeks time, my son is 13. He is already at “that time of life” with body changes, confusing emotions and all the other stuff that a young boy has to deal with. The good news is that he has settled into “big school” well and is getting good grades.

But the world today is very different to the world I knew when I was his age. The world has gone online which brings a whole new set of problems and of course because I didn’t have to go through the whole social media thing when I was his age, I can’t just call on experience to help be guide him through.

But I would like to think i have been the responsible parent to date. He is simply not allowed access to social media sites such as Facebook or Instagram for a number of reasons. Because whilst I might not think he is ready to be exposed to it and because of the fact that many of the social media platforms have a minimum age requirement of 13 (with some specifying 16 or 18) so he would need to lie (about his age) to join.

Now I know that many many parents have allowed their kids to have social media accounts all before their 13th birthdays, actively supporting their kids to lie about their age to multi national companies. A great example to set for your kids isn’t it? At the same time, the media is full of stories of young kids committing suicide or being groomed by grown ups who want to do them harm.

Cyber Bullying is a real problem and whilst bullying was bad enough when I was a kid, at least then I could escape from it by simply going home and shutting the door. Now that bullying has moved online, it follows you everywhere resulting in kids shut away in their bedrooms in tears because of the taunts online being delivered straight to their smart phones.

So I have done what I have thought to be right so far when it comes to social media and stuck to the rules set out by the service providers. My son does not currently have a Facebook account or and Instagram account or even for that matter an email account. He simply does not need one.

I also held out a long time on a mobile phone and when he did eventually get one, it wasn’t an all singing all dancing smartphone with internet access and apps. It was a simple pay as you go Nokia 100 phone that made calls, sent texts and even had a couple of games on it. If he was going to be late home he was able text or call.

Indeed playing by the rules, at 11 or 12 years old, an Android smartphone is not even an option on the grounds that you really need a Google account to run one and of course you have to be 13 before that can happen.

But this year Sam has been given a smart phone. In his case, it’s my old iPhone 4S. The reason for Apple is simple.

Apple have the concept of a family account. My wife and I are recognised as parents and my son as the child he is. If he wants to download an app from the app store, he has to “ask permission” and then I receive a notification on my phone asking me to authorise it. Simple and very effective. At the same time, I can set restrictions on what he can do (such as in app purchases) and as a family, we can even see where each other is.

And on top of all of this, his school has a very sensible line when it comes to mobile phones of any type.

Simply put, mobile phone are not allowed during the school day. If you are seen with one, you will loose it until the end of the day. Not only does this address a number of concentration concerns, it also dramatically reduced cases of cyber bullying and the like. It also means that during breaks and at lunchtime, you do not have several hundred children sitting around in a playground like zombies all staring at their screens and not talking to each other.

They are forced to talk to each other in real life!

So I would like to think that to date, I have been the responsible parent but I do see trouble ahead.

As I said at the start, in a few weeks time, my Son is 13 so can legitimately have his own social media accounts. Being the responsible parent, I am already thinking about this (hence this blog post) and have no intention of stopping him from using these tools however I am trying to be prepared (for both him and myself).

There is tons of information online. Indeed my own company has an entire team dedicated to Digital Parenting for our own customers who publish regular magazines and articles on their website HERE.

Also lets not forget that I live much of my own life online. I make extensive use of Facebook and Instagram as well as instant messaging platforms such as iMessage and Skype and am forever watching funny cat videos on YouTube. This is a world I am familiar with.

But I am a grown up with grown up emotions. My son is at that confusing time of life where everything is changing and where he still faces new things every single day.

So the obvious stuff like adult content filters on the home wifi have been in place ever since he first got an iPad. Likewise, the family computer has the usual family safety software installed. And for when he is out of the house (and thus the filtered internet), Vodafone (who provide his cellular airtime) have adult filters in place by default.

Having said all of that however, I do call bullshit on a lot of the reports in the media about how the internet is full of porn and how it is so easy to “accidentally” find yourself on websites full of obscene material.

Yes there are thousands of “adult” websites out there catering for all tastes and all totally unsuitable for kids. But the claim you can accidentally find yourself on a porn site and accidentally watch a 30 minute adult movie! Really?

I think there are parents out there who need to accept that the reason they caught their kids watching porn is not because their kids found it accidentally whilst searching for stuff to do with Lego but because their 14 year old son is going through a hormone crisis and went looking for it. Possibly compounded by parents allowing their kids to sign up for a Google account whilst underage and allowing them to lie about their age thus circumventing Google own filters.

Indeed if you have a Google account, and if you have entered your age as 14 (and not lied and said you are 36) or don’t sign in at all, then if you type in “Naked Girls” into Google image search, the result may surprise you

Google Search For naked Girls

Trust me, if you sign in with a grown up account and do the same search, the results page is not something I can post on this blog!

Anyway, just in case my sons hormones get the better of him, filters are on and in place. Check!

But a lot of the coming months is going to be about education and support. We will both make mistakes. He will do things he should not do and I am sure I will do the same. We are both in learning mode here.

There will be a few ground rules and are the conditions on which he is allowed to have these nice shiny pieces of technology. The first rule being that no matter how uncool it may be, on any social media site he joins, he will always “friend” his mum and his dad!

The second is no technology in the bedroom with the exception of his Kindle. Bedrooms are to sleep in and I don’t want him messaging through the night.

For his birthday he will be getting a new PC (rather than one of my “hand me downs”) which means he will be fully equipped for the digital world with a smart phone, iPad and PC. These will all be devices under my control however so I will be able to see what he is doing and “protect him” from the nasty stuff (even if he goes looking for it).

I will update here on how we get on. After all, I am sure there are thousands of parents in the same situation being bombarded by the Daily Mail scare mongering

I know that the Internet and all it has to bring will only make my sons life better with access to the whole worlds knowledge and wisdom. My roll as a parent will be to stand by him and help him make sense of it all whilst trying to steer him away from the nasty stuff.

I’ll let you know how we get on.