herald

Saturday 18 August 2018

An open mind is the only way to tackle this

I don't know how many parenting magazines I've picked up which tell me that the surefire way to make sure the kids don't access dodgy stuff on the internet is to keep the family PC in a downstairs room, like the kitchen, so I can spot potential paedophiles lurking online while they're doing their homework amid the cacophony of the day.

Yes, well, as parents we know, real life isn't always that simple. Most older teenagers have their own laptop -- indeed, if you're in one of those lucky schools that don't use books any more, you have to have one.

And what self-respecting 15-year-old is going anywhere without a touchscreen mobile that we're constantly reminded has more technology on it than sent man to the moon.

The truth is that the ordinary rules to keeping your child safe have gone out the window. They're being overtaken by a stream of new technology arriving at an ever faster pace and there are now hundreds more opportunities for our children to see sexual imagery, violent acts and vicious crime than ever before.

Hell, even having Sky multi-room is enough if your teen has a telly in her bedroom. The content of some of the late night channels can be horrific.

A recent American study found 26pc of teenagers had been bullied on their mobile phone -- how would a parent even be aware of that if not told? The really sad finding was that many of them reported it "wasn't a big deal".

In other words, social norms have moved to such an extent that kids think it's somehow okay, or even expected, that they'll be bullied in one form or another.



SPITEFUL

Bullying is not about a punch or dig, hair-pulling or name calling. It's insidious, vicious little texts sent to everyone except the child being bullied -- spreading vile rumours, hacking into their Facebook page, posting horrible comments and being spiteful.

It's done anonymously through cyberspace -- a place that didn't even exist when we were in school. How can we hope to keep up? Bullying is happening even without victims realising.

Anonymity makes bullies and sexual predators brave. The University of Central Lancashire issued a five-point method used by paedophiles to "groom" children online which makes even the most stringent parent wince:

1. Befriending -- coaxing a child into a private chat-room, asking them for a non-sexual picture; pretending to be the same age/gender. This can take weeks or months.

2. Relationship forming -- asking them about their problems to draw them out.

3. Risk assessment -- questioning about the location of their computer and who else uses it.

4. Exclusivity -- building up a sense of trust; telling the child they can share "anything".

5. Sex talk -- explicit chat; requesting sexual photos; arranging a meeting.

Even for so-called "innocent" relationships, it's easy to fall foul of the law in Ireland. It's not all about dirty old men luring young girls for sex. If a 16-year-old girl takes an explicit photo of herself (even just topless) and texts it to her 16-year-old boyfriend, he could be guilty of possession of child pornography.

The latest collection craze isn't comics or coins -- it's "friends" on Facebook. If you're less fussy about who they are, luring them in by posting semi naked photos of yourself might seem like "a laugh" for some.

We're into the much harder realms of good parenting these days. And the biggest tool in our arsenal is still an open mind and lots of love.

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