Is the internet the forbidden fruit in your house?
It is a mother’s dread – walking past her teenage boy’s room and hearing a girl’s voice behind the door. Upon entering his room, I realise that the girl was not physically there, but on the other end of an online chat about (of all things) Minecraft! The conversation went something like this:
Me – ‘Hi Bill, who are you talking to?’
Bill – ‘Sally’
‘I don’t think I know Sally – is she new at school?’
What are you talking about?
Oh, so how do you know Sally?
How old is Sally?
Twelve, she lives in Perth.
At this point, I was calm on the outside, but panicking on the inside. Could this person be an online predator? No, I heard her voice – she was definitely young. But… if he had accepted her as a friend – did he have more online friends who he/we didn’t know and maybe one of those is!! I could feel the stress levels going through the roof. I needed to know more…
Hmmmm, do her parents know that you are talking with her?
Yes, her dad walked by a minute ago and said hi to me!
Oh….. do you have any other friends on Minecraft like Sally?
Yes (my heart skips a beat), but they all go to school with me.
Oh, so Sally is the only one you haven’t met?
Relieved, but still concerned, I turned tail and quickly found hubby.
In my son’s eyes this was completely normal behaviour. In mine – it was definitely not! Why had he not heeded our warnings about cyber safety?
When our children started using the internet, my husband and I decided that we wouldn’t put a ‘net nanny’ on, but we would discuss cyber safety with them. Through keeping the communication lines open and being aware what our children were doing online, they would become responsible internet users. What really surprised me was that he was completely oblivious to the dangers. So where did we/I go wrong??
I remember my mother always saying ‘Just wait until you have kids of your own! Then you will understand why I say no to the things you want to do!’ Should I have been more like her and said “no” to this game ‘Minecraft’ and put the internet under lock and key? But that just made me want to go behind her back and do it anyway! Popular culture and especially the internet seems to draw children in, but with blinkers on so they can’t see all the dangers. But really, is it any different to when I was growing up, or when my parents were in their teenage years?
On reflection, I suppose that my son was doing what any other child would do (in his eyes). Imagine this scenario: I take my son to a park, so he can play on the playground. Here, he finds some other children whom he starts up a conversation with and then they start playing happily. I look on fondly and think “wow isn’t that nice, he’s growing and maturing to a point that he has the confidence to start up conversation with kids he doesn’t know. This is all part of growing up; it’s natural; right?
I hear you say, “But you as the parent can see the children. You are watching and can see everything that is going on. The internet is different – you can’t see who is on the other end of the line”. But I say the scenario is exactly like what happened when my son made his friend online. I as a parent allowed him to access the internet and Minecraft, but all the while I was watching on. Hubby and I were having chats with him about how to behave online (as we do about how to behave appropriately in public ie. The park). Now, if he then decided that he wanted to go and play with one of these friends from the park or for that matter Sally, I as a parent would investigate said friend, want to meet said friend’s parents etc.
The internet is here to stay. It is a part of our culture as well as that of our youth’s. Do we put it under lock and key? Which makes it a forbidden fruit, tempting to our children to take a bite when no one is looking. Or, do we allow them access? Teaching them to be responsible in situations; being a part of their interactions with the internet and being aware of what they are doing and with whom they are chatting with online.
You know what? I’m actually please that I heard my son chatting with Sally – not because I wanted to stop this from occurring. But rather, it provided the perfect opportunity for us to discuss the dangers of having internet friends. Although Sally is a real girl across the other side of the country, there are people out there who pretend to be young girls so that they can meet young boys to do them harm. Believe me there are many things we say no to with our kids, but the internet is not one of them!