Senior school can often mean big changes in a child’s Internet habits. That’s certainly the experience of Vicky and her son Nathan, who started secondary school a year ago.
Nathan is 13 and when he started senior school, his parents bought him a laptop for homework. He also has access to other technology in the house, like a Google Assistant and Xbox.
Managing teen’s curiosity online
“We really noticed the change when Nathan was 11, and kids at school would be telling him to look up certain things on Google,” says Vicky. “It was by chance that I checked his search history and found what he’d been looking for – naked girls of his own age. Fortunately, his spelling is very poor so what he was looking for didn’t actually show up in the search history.”
Vicky and her husband had bought Nathan a Chrome laptop, with Nathan’s Google account being “mirrored” on Vicky’s own laptop. This meant she was able to check his search history, and see web pages that were being accessed.
Addressing the issue of online pornography
Rather than being angry, Vicky tried to keep the situation light, and understand Nathan’s natural curiosity. “I explained the terms he was searching for could create big problems. I said I could understand why he might want to see naked girls, and why he would look for girls of his own age, but that he needed to be very careful. I think the realisation that we could see his search history was enough.”
Nathan’s original reaction was to be very embarrassed. “He was very upset and didn’t want to talk about it, which I could understand,” says Vicky.
Having an open conversation
Vicky considers herself to be well informed about technology and has accessed advice on websites such as the BBC. Despite this, she thinks you can’t always stop children from finding inappropriate content. “I think you can have advice from all directions, but it won’t stop children from going looking,” she says. “I think it’s more important to have an open dialogue with your child and discuss what issues may occur. I also worry that talking about it in school may just drive children to look at things more, because they get curious.”
As Nathan has got older, he has continued to use the Internet and find ways to test the boundaries. For example, on one occasion he was able to look up strippers in a video game via YouTube. “Because it’s a popular game, the content videos aren’t restricted, and that’s allowed children to access adult content,” explains Vicky. It’s a similar story on Instagram, where mature content is not restricted unless parents put specific filters in place.
View on Age Verification law
At the moment, Vicky is unconvinced that age verification legislation will make a big difference. “I think most smart children that use computers will find a way around it if they want to,” she says. “The big YouTubers are all advertising VPN software that will bypass lots of EU regulations, and a quick look through the comments means you can find out about how to bypass various controls and restrictions.”
The best advice Vicky says she would give to other parents is in continuing to have open conversations. “We don’t make anything off-limits or taboo. At the same time, I do have access to his Google account and all of his social media, and Nathan is aware of that.”
Understanding the dangers to offer the right advice
Vicky also advises parents to do their research. “It’s so important to understand the dangers and talk to other parents openly,” she says. “There may be things you’ve not thought of, and sometimes making a topic seem taboo might be the worst thing.”
Having open conversations has allowed Nathan to avoid some issues entirely. For example, as an online gaming fan, Nathan was occasionally contacted by chatbots pretending to be attractive women. “What’s great is that Nathan tells me when he’s had messages, and he understands they’re fake, and blocks them right away,” says Vicky. “We’ve also talked about video chat sites like Chat Roulette, which are often talked about on YouTube.”