PARENTS

Why Does The Government Meddle In Our Parenting?

14/08/2014 16:47 | Updated 22 May 2015
Why does the Government meddle in our parenting?

The deputy children's commissioner has warned parents that monitoring children's Facebook accounts is vital to protect children from online predators.

In what strikes me as a spectacular example of stating the obvious, Sue Berelowitz has advised parents to prevent children from uploading pictures of themselves kissing, showing their flesh, or wearing any sort of revealing outfit.

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Because obviously, without this indispensable nanny-state advice, most modern parents would stand by smiling blithely and muttering 'That's nice, dear' as we watch our children post X-rated images of themselves online.

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Give me strength. I've had enough of the present Government's efforts to meddle with my parenting. Not long ago we had David Cameron's advisor on childhood, Claire Perry encouraging us to snoop on our kids to keep them safe from strangers online, and now this.

I don't deny that there are real dangers affecting children online. I'm all for parents knowing how to keep their kids safe online, but since when did it become a Government minister's job to tell me how to raise my children?

I don't dish out unsolicited advice to Dave and his cronies about how to run the country, so why do they see fit to keep telling me how to be a mum?

Parents don't need to spy on their kids - we simply need to talk to our children about the dangers that surround them, and teach youngsters how to recognise and avoid compromising situations. Meekly suggesting that they simply censor the photographic evidence of those moments is akin to locking the stable door long after the horse has bolted.

And having spoken to Alison, a public engagement police community support officer, I'd wager that the children who are most at risk online are those whose parents aren't going to pay much heed to Government ministers and their well-meaning internet safety lectures anyway.

She thinks Facebook should make it tougher for kids to create accounts. "I deal with endless Facebook issues at work: children uploading indecent images of themselves, being bullied online, and talking to strangers because they want more 'friends' on their list than their actual friends. Much of the time parents either aren't bothered or have no idea of how to protect their child in the first place."

What the Government does say about keeping kids safe online is never all that informative or practical either. Where are the guidelines outlining the true risks, and the measures to take to identify and deal with them?

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Father of four, Richard, thinks parents should actively encourage their children's online lives - albeit with parental supervision. "Facebook isn't scary, it's just a form of communication, not unlike the one we used as kids, except we ran up huge bills on our parents landlines!"

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Richard conducted research at local schools and discovered that it's not the kids with Facebook accounts who get bullied online, but those whose parents prohibit Facebook who get ostracised and bullied by their peers.

"The fact that a second-year girl (aged 12) can name the three 'uncool' people in her entire year at school who are not on Facebook speaks volumes. Local schools now teach pupils how to be safe on social networks, and provided that parents set up the account and have clear rules for use, like not allowing children to change the passwords and not friending anyone you don't know, I see no risk or danger at all."

Richard adds: "It's better to establish trust between you and your child, and to explore the internet together rather than forcing your child to choose between being left out at school for not being on Facebook, or going behind your back to set up an account anyway."

Mum of four Jackie disagrees. "My eldest is 10 and has asked to join her friends on Facebook but I've said no. No doubt within the next couple of years I will have to give in as I have no intentions of forcing her to be a closet Facebooker, but my problem with Facebook is what parents of secondary aged children tell me. Kids feel under pressure to accept friend requests from everyone at school. Some of these kids don't even like each other.

"I've also seen a bit of bullying on Facebook from teenagers but even the 'tame' stuff is pretty awful. Girls of 10 declaring love for each other, saying 'no boy will ever come between us'. I mean, what?!"

All of which leads me to one conclusion. If the Government really wants to support parents in the job we do, why don't they start by explaining why thousands of Sure Start centres - widely been credited with improving the lives of children nationwide - are at risk of closure due to spending cuts?

I suspect because it's the easiest thing in the world to issue a slick soundbite that preys on parents' fears about online predators, whereas actually doing something to support and safeguard children and their families over the long term? Well, that's probably a bit too much like hard work.

Tips to Help Kids Use Social Networks Safely

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