Every now and again I see the posts being shared across social media about this challenge or that challenge. Dares via social media sites and messaging apps leading to injury and death. Certainly social media is a scary place to be. From dares such as the Necker challenge (downing a pint of all manner of concoctions) to nasty individuals posting worryingly adult content on YouTube disguised as children’s videos, exposing children to things that they shouldn’t be seeing and potentially scaring them. The latest being the Momo Challenge, where children are being messaged and being scared into hurting themselves or scaring others and being sent gruesome images via WhatsApp. (read more here)
Each time these scares crop up, my Facebook page is full of news reports and “how to keep our children safe* guides. Which are great, obviously it’s important to share these. Deaths of children have been reported after all. I have seen parents panicking and deleting apps from their children’s phones, banning the viewing of YouTube and halting online gaming. Fantastic measures, and of course these parents are aiming to keep their children safe.
But how effective are those measures long term? Can you forever control what your young people see? And is there not the risk that when things are banned the appeal becomes even greater and so things are accessed with friends, in secret, and then if things go wrong who can the children talk to?
In my house I don’t ban things for that very reason. I remain open and honest with my young people. The lines of communication are always open and nothing is made taboo. Ultimately they know that they can come and tall things through with me. So, yes they are aware of all these challenges as and when they surface. We discuss them, read about them. So much so that when A had an incident of someone sending her not nice images as a way to convince her to do something she didn’t want to do, she was able to come to me and we could work it out. And that working it out was crucial. Because if they come to me, even if I am not happy about a situation, I can’t get cross at them for coming to me for help. Because it is help that they need and by that point they tend to know that things have gone wrong and being told off won’t help, I don’t ever want them to be scared to come to me for help.
(In this past post I have touched on my approach towards parenting and how I feel it has encouraged and allowed my children to safely make informed decisions, without the need for bans.)
Even with the little ones, I am not banning YouTube and the likes. They don’t tend to view those independently anyway. On occasion the 4 yr old watches on his dad’s phone, with volume up so we can hear or us sat beside him keeping an eye….. I have no intention to tighten those reins. We encourage conversation about what he has been watching, we can access watched videos etc and will always remain open and approachable.
But those important things, rules not Just for the internet but for real life? No secrets from mum and dad. If someone says “don’t tell mum or dad”, that is exactly what you must do. If anyone says “no one will ever believe you” then come to mum and dad, because they will! Don’t be mean, don’t hurt people, if you see it then say it. Just a few rules that we live by.
My teenagers have been told if out they stay together. They may argue, they may fall out. But they must get home together. Come home and argue it out or go to their bedrooms to get away from each other. Don’t walk off and leave each other. The girls get told if you go out with a girlfriend, you stay with that girlfriend, don’t leave her alone to go off with a boy.
They are all taught to be strong in their beliefs. To not bend to peer pressure and their body their choice ALWAYS. This has been demonstrated by contact with family members (no forced hugs and kisses, their choice) hair colour and styles, piercing, approaches to tattoos, smoking, drinking etc throughout adolescence.
We have discussed abusive situations and consent at length, including the right to change your mind!
It is my hope that these lessons and conversations stay with the children well into adulthood. Because one day they will be grown and there will be another challenge doing the rounds across social media and banning access won’t be an option. I want them to be informed and strong enough to know that it’s ok to say no!
When you find yourself panicking and deleting that app, ask yourself how this is preparing the children for when they are older and you won’t have access to their tech.
I aim to keep my children safe, not just online through each scary phase of the internet but for life!