I have been reading with amazement reports and articles in the media calling for greater control of children's online time, e-mails, texts, cellphone usage, etc. All this has arisen because people seem just to have realised that children are exposed to porn, inappropriate messaging, online bullying, peer pressure (or whatever you call the silly compulsion to meet pre-adult fashion and quasi-adult societal norms), etc. Of course there is pressure from advertisers; every business wants to increase its product penetration and the impressionable teen or pre-teen is a valuable market. Of course there is also pressure from sexual predators; think of them as businesses and the same motivations apply. But protecting one's kids from these is exactly what parents are supposed to be for.
Parenting is not just about applying bandaids or hugging when crushes don't work out or even just handing out placebos when hunger pangs or hormones strike. There's a lot of advice and help and steering and general caring involved. Look it up in the dictionary - a parent is 'an offspring's caretaker'. And there's example setting. Too many parents seem to want to be friends with their kids. That can work, but what doesn't work is pretending to be a kid and doing things you should have grown out of long ago. And nor does it work pretending that they're adults and letting them do things at home (or worse outside of the home) which they should do only when old enough.
Children need role models. If parents don't offer them that, then children will fall for the role models seductively offered by advertisers, anti-social peers, petty criminals and pedophiles.
And the stricter you are, the more your kids will look elsewhere, where the lifestyle seems easier to achieve or persons seem more loving. It's tricky, isn't it! That's why parents sometimes need training too.
Anyway, back to online pressures and threats, where do these kids get their smart phones, iPads, Internet connections, etc from? Well, the answer is that their parents pay for them. Of course I understand why you might want your young son or daughter to have a mobile phone, but, let's be honest, how often are they used just so that you can contact each other in the event of an emergency? And how much are they used additionally to send texts, to call others, to email, to log onto the Internet? 50% of the time? 75% of the time? All the time? Don't know? And what are they taking photographs/videos of with their emergency contact device?
This, I believe, is the essential question. If kids use their parents' equipment (equipment bought by parents for these emergency purposes), or their parents' Internet connection, or cellphone provider, then parents surely have the right to check usage of this equipment. No, not just a right, an obligation. If your child was speaking to strange adults in the park, you'd be concerned. If they are doing the same online, and worse, given the pressures not to appear wimpy or boring, then surely you should know. You should certainly be concerned.
Why am I saying 'you'? Sorry, it's probably not you. But I am surprised by the number of times I read letters from parents saying they don't like to read a child's e-mails or check their text messages, because of some misplaced sense of privacy or fear or even ignorance. Yes, kids grow up too quickly these days. But we can help slow the process down. There are just so many cases today of adults who were psychologically damaged when young, who had childhoods interrupted in some way, who grow up to become anti-social in some way, that it's clear to me that the pre-teen and teen period is something valuable to sustain and nourish. If humans leap from child to adult with no fun, development, nurtured, learning period in between, they must become incomplete adults and are liable to join the ranks of those we so much wish them to avoid. And, oh so tempting though it is to be young again, we must try to act our age and only behave irresponsibly at those times when the kids are not around. And if you have kids, sometimes those times are few and far between, (if they exist at all, now that pubs are full of kids . . .).
On the point about role models, I don't want to get into the discussion about sexy pop videos, except to say that they are one thing parents can limit access to or at least talk to their children about. But I am struck by the number of publications that look harmless, but which are just as pressurising. Comics and newspapers, apparently just for the young are often geared to push kids into consuming and thus to be more adult than they are. Comic strips about 'normal' kids, who just happen to have the latest fashions or new technological products, or ads again, or just straightforward lives of celebrities that have appealing lifestyles for the impressionable young, can be just as pernicious as adults grooming the kids for something else. And of course they create a demand for products, ownership of which can be very seductive and dangerously compelling.
I leafed through the so-called autobiography of some teen star while in WH Smith the other day (I was waiting for someone. Honest.). I shan't query the ability to write an autobiography whilst still only just out of your teens, but there are two points about this - one, in the absence of actually having done something, there is a need to write trivial nonsense to fill the pages and to make it sound important, and, two, they set themselves up as role models (maybe unwittingly) whilst writing about their incredibly inappropriate lifestyles. On the page I read, this young lady (I can't remember the name) was starting a new school, and found she was bullied because she had the wrong hairstyle and trainers. But a really nice boy took her under his wing and helped her buy the right clothes and have her hair cut the right way and told her who to be friends with and who wasn't cool, etc.
Again, no explanation of where the money came from for buying all these things, but wouldn't alarm bells ring for you if you read this in your daughter's blog for example? But, no, feeling newly confident now, the girl apparently went home and told her Mum, 'you can't stop me going out at night now. I'm fourteen and I have to have my own life.' And there it is - the moment real parenting begins, not where it ends. Of course for her it ended and she went on and became famous among teens for doing something, or dating someone, and wrote an autobiography, etc. She just has another 70 years in which to actually do something, but meanwhile she will be no doubt wish to be emulated by many girls even younger than she.