In an article about the report, the BBC says that whilst parents surveyed in the UK think their children spend 18.8 hours online per month, the real figure is actually closer to 43.5. In fact, the Brits are apparently amongst the least aware of what their kids are up to. The report tells us that whilst 81% of parents in the UK think they have a good idea of what their offspring are doing online, 31% of the little darlings themselves said that their parents did not know what they were doing.
It’s easy to read such reports and ask what on earth these parents are thinking. But teens can be wily creatures, seemingly programmed to circumvent efforts to prevent them from talking to who they want to, when they want to. Natural curiosity dictates that they’ll find ways to investigate issues around sexuality.
In my day, it was different. I remember at 12 years old coming across a crowd of boys from my school year huddled in a bush giggling over a ripped-out page from an adult magazine. The title of the article (and unfortunately the picture) has stayed with me to this day. I won’t traumatise you with the details. Two or three years later, I’d be sneaking off to my parents’ bedroom to use the telephone extension to sneakily call my boyfriend, praying my folks wouldn’t pick up downstairs and overhear half an hour’s worth of “you hang up. No YOU hang up.”
Of course the opportunities and dangers are different today. No-one (I hope) is suggesting that we try to stifle our children’s curiosity or discourage them from using technology to supplement other ways of cementing friendships. The line between the right to privacy and protecting our children from potential harm is a fine one indeed, and finding the right balance can feel like an eternal struggle. Personally, I don’t think monitoring online activity can be likened to reading your child’s diary – a debate I’ve had with a family member several times. It’s our job as parents to protect our children from harm, and to gently guide them through adolescence to independence – teaching them how to protect themselves.
There’s lots of great advice out there on how to help to protect your children online. CEOP’s ThinkUKnow area for parents is a great place to start, with comprehensive information about grooming, mobile phones, gaming, social networking and chat.