It’s a fine balance between spying, controlling, teaching and trusting our kids online.

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I remember being rung up on a Bank Holiday Monday by a Polish journalist last year, asking me my opinion on some new tracking device that tracks children through their mobile phone as well as talking on The Jeremy Vine Show on Channel 5 about the pros and cons.

I told her I didn’t like it as it smacked of cotton wool parenting, an infringement of a young person’s independence, autonomy, and freedoms as well as being like spying on them.

I also remember when my Mum read my diary when I was 16 as I felt betrayed, violated and angry.

But it’s never been easier for parents to keep tabs on their children and the new technology allows us access to details of their private lives which our parents could have discovered only by eavesdropping or reading diaries.

Now you can install software that secretly tracks every move your child makes on the internet, and soon there will be GPS-enabled phones to check whether your teenager is telling the truth about his or her whereabouts.

Of course, we have a responsibility to keep our kids safe in this cyber age where we know that sexual predators, bullies or suicide sites can be easily accessed.

I know it’s a fine line between a quick peek at their Facebook or WhatsApp messages when your child forgets to sign off but is it RIGHT?

One way I have personally handled it is that I insisted that my kids knew that if they swore or posted up inappropriate photos, their school, their future employer and their technical savvy Grandma of 76 who has got an i –pad may read them and I taught them that they shouldn’t post anything that they wouldn’t want their Grandma to see!

I also used to walk past the computer when they were on and look over their shoulders now and again to make them aware that I could…….and would…… keep an eye on them.

I remember being totally horrified by the language some kids post up – and some of them used to be former pupils of mine when they were 8! But obviously their parents hadn’t thought this one through and I think you need to as a parent.

You need to be technically savvy as it’s really no good putting your head in the sand over the technology – kids need guidelines and rules and boundaries just like they do for homework, staying out or tidying their rooms.

John Carr is a new technology adviser for NCH, the children’s charity, which published a report on internet safety last year.

John is in favour of parents keeping an eye on internet use but says:

“Children have a right to privacy. They need space to breathe and learn, and as they get older the need for privacy increases. The most important thing is to keep talking and to make sure that they feel they can come to you if they’re worried by anything.”

John Carr himself is a parent of teenagers as well as a member of the Home Office task force on internet safety also says that parents should be careful not to overreact.

He advises: “Kids talk about sex and relationships in a way that we never did at their age. It doesn’t mean that they’re out of their depth or actually having sex. When I talk to my kids about the internet I get the usual response, ‘You don’t know anything about this, Dad’.”

So it’s a fine line between overtly intervening, ignoring or openly discussing this subject and teaching, nudging and guiding kids to understand what they are doing and the implications and consequences in this new technical age….. we are ALL learning and it does seem to develop at a rate of knots !

So keep up !

Sonia Livingstone, a professor of social psychology at the London School of Economics, who has written several studies comparing children’s and parents’ attitudes to the internet, says:

“If a child is withdrawn, or spending hours and hours on the computer and closes the door every time you come near, that may justify monitoring. But spying should always be a last resort because it’s part of the cycle in which the parent and child reduce their levels of trust and conversation. My concern would be whether parents want to monitor their children because they are overanxious and panicked, or whether they do have good reason to worry.”

So what are your rules?

How do you keep an eye on what they are doing, writing and saying on their texts, computers or smart phones?

How do you keep the lines of healthy communication open?

It’s not for me to tell you what to do as my job is to ask you good questions to help you to find your own answers, but I do want you to get a piece of paper over the weekend and ponder and reflect on how you are going to protect them, teach them and keep an eye on them.

It may help to change the language you use – if you call it spying it sounds rather sinister but if you think of it as teaching them appropriate behaviour with etiquette, manners and boundaries then you may find you gain clarity, confidence and focus on what is and isn’t acceptable to you.

It’s a fine balance between spying, controlling, teaching and trusting our kids online and it’s a complicated world now with ever increasingly sophiscated technology.

We can’t just put our heads in the sand and pretend it will all go away or that cyber bullying, grooming or inappropriate tagging, tweeting or posting ‘won’t happen to my kids.’

There are lots of services out there that help you monitor your kids’ online activity, their cell phones, their social media accounts, but not many that let you do all at the same time.  Here is a guide to parental control apps that aims to help parents learn more about their children’s digital worlds and protect their privacy on popular sites like Facebook, Twitter, Tik Tok as well as on their cell phones as well.

According research 33% of teens have been cyberbullied, but haven’t told a parent; 69% admit to regularly talking to strangers online and 20% admit to sending or posting inappropriate photos. There’s nothing scarier to us as parents knowing that our children may be in any kind of danger.

We owe it to our kids to keep them safe while still  having lots of fun with all the wonderful technology so go and explore this simple way of keeping a watchful eye on your kids activity while talking and teaching them to be aware of the possible dangers.

Read my article

What’s the difference between spying on your kids and keeping an eye on them?


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