Jeanette is a working Mum of two teenagers, Tim (15) and Daisy (13). She lives in Dorset with her husband and shares her take on the new online code for kids and the challenges she faces managing her kids online lives.
Online safety is an issue that regularly comes up, and is something that’s really important to the family, Jeanette explains. “My son is autistic, and the fact that someone might lie and not be who they say online is quite hard for him to understand,” she says.
Lots of the rules are just common sense. “We ask they don’t have passwords that are easy to guess, and if they participate in an online game, they don’t use their real name or their location.”
For Jeanette, the biggest concern she has is social media, and the pressures it can place on teens. “In the 80s or 90s, if a classmate wanted to tease someone about their hair, or weight, it would be confined to school,” she says. “Nowadays, every phone has a camera and the risks for humiliation and bullying are greater. Even if an image is deleted, it’s still out there somewhere and who knows how many people will have seen it?”
As a Mum, Jeanette views her role and being to support, and to restrict her children’s online lives. “Having clear guidelines set down is really helpful, but we do have other tools.”
For example, the family uses Microsoft software, which sends through an activity report each week. Also, the WiFi is set to prevent access to certain sites, and Jeanette uses an app that shuts down the children’s iPads prior to bedtime. Both children’s phones are linked to a shared iCloud photo library, so Jeanette is able to monitor photos taken with the children’s devices.
Of course, no system is perfect and there have been occasions where Jeanette has had to intervene. “What I find though is that if I have to talk to my son about his attempts to access something he shouldn’t, he has understood why the restrictions are in place, and why that content wasn’t appropriate.”
Jeanette is also aware that she can’t always be there to monitor her children. “My son has to take two trains to school, and he has a phone. On the one hand we have the safety of knowing he is getting from A to B safely, but on the other hand, we don’t know what he might access outside the safety net of our home WiFi.”
Jeanette for one supports the idea of a ‘digital green cross code’ for children, perhaps run in partnership with schools. “I think the emphasis should be that users shouldn’t say something online they wouldn’t say in person, that celebrity images are filtered and photo-shopped, and the “perfect” lives they see online aren’t necessarily so.”
Fortunately, the family has only experienced one incident of cyber-bullying so far. “My son thought he was savvy but he was shocked to be told by another user in an online game that he would track down my son and kill him,” says Jeanette.
Thankfully, Tim felt able to tell his parents immediately, who were able to investigate. “We checked up and established this person was thousands of miles away, and that meant we could reassure my son that nothing was going to happen,” says Jeanette. “Following that incident, we did advise him not to enter any games or worlds where it could be seen that this other person was.”
Jeanette’s top tip for parents of teens is to keep communicating. “This helps your children feel that they can seek advice if need be. I think it’s important, to be frank about scenarios but not in such a way that terrifies them and make use of the screening and security features that are available because teenagers are naturally curious!”
Here are more resources to help you keep your child safe online