Last week, two of the girls perpetrated a heinous crime in our home, breaking the keeping safe code that is firmly laid down amongst us here. I appreciate some children have vast and unlimited amounts of freedom to roam and be responsible for themselves. Some kids have ample opportunity to practice getting themselves around town, on and off buses, to and from school, to the park, back from the park. All those things. However, where we live (a nice, safe area, much to recommend it) doesn’t especially lend itself to practising. We spend most of our time getting in and out of the car rather than walking places and so the opportunities to strengthen the skills required for keeping safe out and about are more limited. I lived somewhere very similar though and was perfectly capable of moving straight to London at 18, so I’m fairly sure it won’t be a disaster, but I would like to be able to give them more independence. Added to that, they don’t actually ask to separate off too much; Fran was offered lots of ‘go to town on your own’ chances before she finally decided she wanted to. When I think back to how I railed against limiting parenting as a teen, I’m never quite sure if we’ve been excellent at all this parenting malarky or terrible.
I am a spectacularly anxious parent, or was until Freddie when I decided that the old adage about locking yourself in a room and dying because a picture fell on your head was about as true as it can be. One way I get round my constant panic that something will happen to one of them is to have rules that we apply very firmly. They are my Daily Mail rules; if we follow these rules and something bad happens, will I still get pilloried in the Daily Mail? One of them is that, yes, you can go to the park in a group but you always stick together, you always move in a pack and you always stick with the person who knows the area the best. So when two of them broke that rule, with the faked explanation that they didn’t come back because X wanted to stay at the park on her own, I was furious. I frogmarched them home and sent them to bed (for their own safety… ) and they knew they’d seriously overstepped the mark. Having firm guidelines I expect them to operate within lets me feel I can allow them freedom and if they break them, it puts me in the position of wanting to be stricter than I truly think I should be.
I do sometimes think I have done a better job of instilling this from the top down than I have individually; Fran and Maddy would never break this and had all of them been there, Fran would not have allowed the younger ones to do what they did. It was a useful lesson to me in remembering that pack mentality won’t work now the pack is not always together.
Safety of course isn’t only when you are out and about and since the desperate case of the Soham girls, parents have been all too aware that real life and online can merge into one thing. Safety online isn’t as simple as installing an antivirus software resource; getting a computer clear of a virus is the easy bit. Our girls have been reasonably active online for years. We take care to monitor but we also try to teach them to think for themselves and query whether something is safe on their own. Fran has tripped up a few times, letting details out about herself or us that might be best kept under wraps. Maddy fell slightly foul of the Moshi Monsters noticeboard loophole but Club Penguin has taught them all useful lessons about how to stay safe. The limited accounts gave them a good insight into how little it is really safe to say online. For me, this gentle exposure to a media that is going to rule their lives is a sensible thing, best done while they can ask and query things with us. So far none of them have done anything truly dreadful but last weeks episode reminded me that now the a DS has browsing capabilities, I need to make sure I am as careful to teach and monitor the younger two as I was with the older ones.
A couple of weeks ago this thought provoking article got Fran and I talking a lot. For better or worse, I started using their names online a long time ago, long before we ever understood that the internet would become the way it has. I breached their confidential status without even thinking about it and they have to live with knowing they have a footprint already. So be it. What Fran and all the others will have to learn is how to safeguard their moment to moment privacy. The article was a good way of helping her to see how easily she could put herself at risk if she doesn’t think carefully about what a check in, a status, a tweet or any other random online location based comment online could potentially do.
It’s an interesting thing, parenting in the 21st century. Whoever thought making sure they understood about safe sex would be the easy bit?