Playing to the crowd

Reading Time: 5 minutesDoes privacy matter to our kids? With our children happy for their every pose to be captured for eternity on the internet and their every thought to be recorded for the world to see in cyberspace, how can we teach them that some things are best kept private? Playtimes helps you navigate the tricky waters of privacy.


Gone are the days when a little, chubby hand reached for yours whenever you left the house and desperate cries of “Mummy!” filled the air as soon as you ventured into a different room to your child. Nowadays, your 10-year-old has a sign on her bedroom door saying “No parents!” and when her friends come over to visit they whisper secrets to each other that you are most definitely not allowed to hear. It’s easy to feel hurt and left out by this behaviour, but one of the skills of being a good parent is understanding that your child has a right to privacy and time spent alone.

There are some perfectly legitimate reasons why your child might prefer that his bedroom door is closed. He could be working on a new skill – many new readers like to enjoy their books in private as it makes them feel less self-conscious – or he may wish to build his friendships without an adult hovering around. It is a good idea to let your child know that you are happy for them to close their door but not to lock it. Knowing that an adult can walk in at any time is a great deterrent for children against doing anything illicit. Find a balance between making sure your child knows that they can talk to you about anything that concerns them and letting them lead their own lives. It’s easier to get a child to open up with factual questions – “Who did you eat lunch with today?” or “What did Beth say about your maths score?” – than open-ended ones – “Is something bothering you?” or “What are you thinking about?” K. Mark Sossin, a professor of psychology at Pace University in New York, told Parents magazine, “When kids feel pressured to share every thought, they develop all kinds of ways of hiding.” Although it might seem counterintuitive, by backing off you can encourage your kids to open up.

So why is it that children and teenagers, who can be so secretive at home, are prepared to bare all on the internet? The golden rule of the web is understanding that it is a public place. You’ve been teaching your kids how to behave in public since they were toddlers, now you just need to ensure that they recognise cyberspace for what it is. As with all public places, it is your responsibility to monitor your children’s behaviour on the internet. Sometimes this might feel like invading your children’s space, but if you feel like that it’s because you’ve fallen into the same trap as your children and are considering online activity as private. It is not.

As is so often noted, parenting today is far different to parenting when we were children. The internet is one of the principal reasons why. It is ok to keep a close eye on your pre-teen when you fear that he or she may be behaving inappropriately on the internet, and letting the whole world into what should be their private life. Letting your child have an internet presence is perfectly acceptable for children of the right age (MySpace and Facebook both have a minimum age of 13), but advising them how best to use that profile is an essential part of modern parenting.

Children are not often inclined to think about what to them seems to be the distant future, but they need to know that information they give out on the internet can be accessed by future university admissions staff and even employers. Once information is on the internet it is very difficult to get rid of. An immature blog or some shared photos may haunt a shy teen or pre-teen for a very long time to come. Let your child know that you are one of the millions that could potentially view their online profile. If your child is on Facebook or Bebo, sign yourself up as well. Insist that your child agrees to you becoming a “friend” of theirs so that you can monitor what they are posting online. Parents these days need to be technology savvy because our kids are. Many parents report that time spent on the internet with their children can be a bonding experience. Leave comments or messages on your child’s webpage or blog so that your looking at it feels like communicating rather than snooping. If your child is being inappropriately confessional on the internet, then buy them a lockable diary and suggest they write in that instead. Do not be tempted to read this diary, except in extreme circumstances. Impress upon your child the idea that they shouldn’t say anything on the internet that they wouldn’t say in real life, both about themselves and other people.

“If your child is on Facebook or Bebo, sign yourself up as well. Insist that your child agrees to you becoming a ‘friend’ of theirs.”

Despite the recent controversial comments of experts such as neuroscientist Susan Greenfield, who claimed that excessive use of social networking sites could damage children’s brains causing “a shorter attention span, an emphasis on . . . the experience of the moment rather than content, an identity that needs to be bolstered up by [micro-blogging site] Twitter and perhaps an increased recklessness”, most apprehension surrounding new technology is simply fear of the unknown. A massive 49 per cent of all eight to 17 year olds use social networking sites; it’s time for parents to embrace and accept the future rather than mistrusting it. However, that’s not to say that you should adopt a laissez-faire attitude with regard to the web. Think of your pre‑teen’s virtual social life in the same way as you would their real one. Ask about what they’ve been doing, who they’ve been talking to and don’t hesitate to intervene if you are worried for their safety.

Rules for Safe Socialising on the Net
  1. Make sure your child knows that a responsible adult will NEVER ask them to hide anything from their parents.
  2. Talk to your kids about how they pose for digital photographs. They should never let themselves be photographed in a way that they wouldn’t be comfortable for you to see.
  3. Similarly, impress upon your kids that they shouldn’t say anything about themselves or other people on the internet that they wouldn’t want you to read.
  4. Always keep the family computer in a public area. Watch for your children rapidly changing screens when you walk into the room or spending a disproportionate amount of time on the net.
  5. Teach your child never to open messages or emails from people they don’t know.
  6. Be informed about privacy settings on social networking sites and make sure your children don’t allow anyone who they haven’t met in person to look at their online profile.
  7. Tell your children not to believe everything they read online.
  8. Don’t let them give out any personal information such as their phone number or address on an internet site.
  9. If your child wants to meet someone in the flesh who they’ve met online, insist on accompanying them.
  10. Instill good decision-making skills in your child and trust that you have done a good job.


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