How to keep your kids safe online while respecting their privacy
With kids nowadays being so techno- cultured, how can parents monitor their behaviour online without violating their privacy completely?
Here's a quick quiz for parents. You may think you know what your kids are texting to their friends or writing online, but what if they use acronyms or slang that look like Greek computer nerd-speak to you?
Do you know, for instance what PAW, GNOC mean? Or Code 9? No, me neither.
PAW simply means "parents are watching", GNOC stands for "get naked on camera", and Code 9 means that adults are around.
These are part of a long list of acronyms and phrases that the UK Child Protection Command (CEOP) and Parent Zone have launched as part of a government-sponsored guide to help parents decipher the language kids use online.
Obviously, it was produced because so many of us parents haven't a clue what the latest teen speak is online - or in real speak for that matter.
Any time I try to use what I think are the latest acronyms in kidspeak, I'm usually met with rolling eyes and an assurance that LOL ("laugh out loud") or TMI ("too much information") was so 2014!
I need to get with the programme seemingly, or just keep my mouth shut lest I embarrass my children.
But I'm not a teen. And when I showed this list of terms to my kids (aged 11 and 14) they - well yes, they rolled their eyes and asked who were the adults who came up with this stuff, "cos, duh… most of these phrases were, like, seriously last year".
But then, they would say that, wouldn't they? I tend to be a bit hyper cautious when it comes to the use of computers and mobile devices in our house.
I insist that I know their passwords so I can check their texts and social media posts, but if I'm being honest, I know that it's very easy for a tech savvy kid to bypass parental control no matter how good your security systems are.
And then there's the issue of privacy. There's nothing worse for a sensitive teen than having their mammy trawling through their communications with their friends, is there?
How would we have felt if our parents had insisted on reading through our teen diaries?
And yet the proliferation of social media and the fact that very little our kids put up online is private means that today`s parents are in a whole new ballgame.
And we're not sure what the parameters are. There's a fine line between legitimate protection and untoward intrusion.
But what is it?
The UK Department of Education reported that one-in-five parents say that they feel ill-equipped to keep their children safe online, and I think if we were being very honest with ourselves, we'd have to put our hands up and admit that many of us haven't a clue what our kids are up to when we're not around.
And so I decided to ask a woman with over 20 years' experience in this field - a self-described "accidental" sex educator Brigid Teevan (inset above) - what she thought about the Parent Info site and if it is of practical use to parents.
Brigid is a creator and facilitator of a four-session Relationship and Sex Education (RSE) programme for primary and secondary-level students, which includes a session for parents in Ireland.
The programme includes an intervention for parents outlining RSE programme, sexual health issues and it focuses on developing critical-thinking and communication skills relating to relationships and sexuality.
Keeping parents up to speed on what challenges their kids may face online and giving them the tools to discuss such issues together is one of Brigid's specialities.
She thought the Parent Info site was a very practical tool, telling me: "This looks an excellent site for providing parents with lots of information and links to other sites. The information is provided in an easy-to-read manner, with down-to-earth language and good use of video clips.
"There is a wealth of information for parents' insight into the most popular apps and social media. It is important to keep abreast of new trends, their terminology, and to be positive.
"It is so important to keep a connection with them and their world. Show an interest, talk about the positive.
"And when you set boundaries, it is important that we communicate our reasons and concerns.
"And Parents Info provides an excellent resource for such needs. Even a parent who isn't techno-friendly, can sit down with their teen and together read through and discuss the advice given on the Parents Info website."
But, I ask, what about prying into your teens private life?
I know we say that we should in order to protect them, but surely they deserve some privacy too?
Brigid agrees: "I think it's difficult for parents to ask their 14 or 15-years-old if they can read through their texts.
"There is the delicate balance of autonomy and paternalism.
"Our aim as parents is to develop trust and independence nevertheless we need to be mindful, that internet devices can be like a Trojan Horse in your child's pocket.
"Last year, as I went around schools, sexting was an issue in three different schools and parents reporting their child viewing or exposed to porn.
"Yet, when Channel Four News delivered a stark warning back in 2012 about 'Generation sex: explicit pics the norm for teens' most of us probably didn't think it applied to our child.
"This year there were over 1,200 ChildLine counselling sessions that mentioned 'sexting' in 2014/15 (NSPCC, 2015)."
I asked a friend of mine, Barbara Scully, a very tech-savvy mammy with two teenage daughters how she dealt with the online menace. She told me:"There are two basic rules that I have been telling my kids since they began to be active online: "Firstly, regardless of your settings whatever you share online is no longer in your control.
"Secondly, bullying someone online is just as bad as doing it in real time.
"I expect them not only not to engage in such behaviour but to also call it out if they see it happening.
And access to porn means that we have to have a conversation about all kinds of aspects of sexuality that is really uncomfortable.
"But my girls are 15 and 17 now and they have a right to privacy too. At their age, I used to spend hours (and pounds) on the phone to my mates.
"If my mother or father had decided that it was in order to listen in to my conversations I would be rightly very angry. Ditto with a diary or journal. Therefore, I don't check their phones."
Are some parents being a little paranoid I wonder?
Barbara says: "I have a suspicion that some parents are somewhat over cautious about their teens' online lives because they have little idea of how social media works.
"I may be a right fool but as far as I can see most teens use Snapchat, Whatsapp etc to communicate with their pals. Most of those interactions are inane and not putting them in any danger whatsoever."
Barbara is probably correct in thinking that much of the online behaviour of our teens is perfectly innocent, but what about the content that isn't?
A survey by the security system McAfee in 2012 showed that four-fifths of our teens said that they knew how to hide their online behaviour from their parents.
But what can we do when many parents don't believe that their Johnny or Mary are exposed to, or indeed accessing, porn or inappropriate material or messages online?
I know myself, from talking to parents, that some refuse to believe it's a problem even when presented with evidence of inappropriate behaviour, or they pass it off as normal teenage inquisitiveness.
Brigid believes that it is important for schools, parents, media and government all work together for the good of our children's sexual health.
She says: "I believe it's important that the Government issue a health warning on the use of internet access mobile device for children under 16, without adult supervision.
"This would not only wake parents up to the serious issues of internet pornography, sexting, the early grooming of sexual images that young people are engaging in.
"But, equally, it would empower a parent to say 'No' and 'This isn't suitable at your age'. Parents can negotiate a phone that only does texts and calls, no camera or internet (Samsung E1200).
"When you son starts driving, you don't throw him the keys of the BMW. We recognise the dangers in this. But because our kids can be sitting in the same room as us, as we watch TV, it seems safe.
"That is not the case, we need to take a step back. The health warning may shock many people at first, but I'm afraid that is only because they are not well informed.
"And that in part is the Government's fault through lack of leadership. Then the responsibility is on parents.
"It is a very challenging time for parents. Parent Info website is an excellent site for helping parents stay informed."
ONLINE TEEN SPEAK
ASL: age, sex,
location (could mean your child is using an anonymous chat room)
CD9: Code 9
(meaning parents are around)
GNOC: get naked on camera
KPC: keep parents clueless
IRL: in real life. See also:
MIRL: meeting in real life or
LMIRL: let’s meet in real life (fine if it’s their friends)
IWSN: I want sex now
MOOS: member of the opposite sex
P911/P999: parent alert
PAW: parents are watching
POS/MOS: parents over shoulder/mum over shoulder
RU/18: are you over 18?
WYRN: what’s your real name?
Zerg: to gang up on someone
‘G’: a friend (boy to boy — originally from ‘gangsta’)
IK: I know
TRUSS: I agree (from trust)