Today I saw my son in a new light, as the boy he is and still wants to be, and the man he’ll grow into and is being pushed into faster than he or I might like! But growing up is inevitable and rather than hiding from it (which is what I want to do) we’ve got to face the next few years head on – together!
He turned 11 this week and in American terms is now a ‘tween’! Admittedly he’s been spoilt rotten with a trip to the Emirates stadium last weekend, a family tea party and a sleepover last night (which we’re all still recovering from!).
Watched him bonding with friends, playing FIFA until the wee hours and larking about in true lad style I thought to myself, my baby is grown up, I need to do something about this! Just before 2am we’d had enough and reluctantly gave the ‘still wide awake and giggly’ boys the responsible parent ‘it’s late, that’s enough now’ talk and confiscated the tablet. Before turning the lights out myself I thought I’d just have a look back at everything they’d been doing and then wished I’d waited for the morning!
Now I preach constantly about online safety for kids – at work I see what it can do to young people who get caught up in the cyber world without any warning or protection … so I am ashamed and shocked to report the following, but want to share my experience today to educate others.
I had diligently put parental controls onto the tablet when we first got it and used the tablets own settings to turn on safe modes etc. I regularly check what games and apps he’s using, chatting to him every couple of weeks openly about the dangers of the internet (slight overkill maybe but he now knows the spiel well enough to repeat it back to me, and I’ve heard him telling others to be safe online too!!). What I had failed to realise, and I didn’t check, was that these controls hadn’t worked on everything …. Youtube is completely open and not restricted by the controls I’d used.
To my horror I found films in the browsing history on Youtube of a nature you wouldn’t want your 11 year old to be seeing. My heart sank, I felt sick and like a complete failure. How had this happened? After asking Google and reading endless forums I discovered that despite my efforts at installing parental controls you need to go into Youtube separately to turn ‘safety on’ and restrict the content available. This isn’t new (something Youtube added after pressure from parents in 2011/12) but you have to look for it and turn it on in your browser even if you have added parental controls to your PC, laptop, tablet etc in other ways. So from this frustrated, angry with the world yet guilty with my own failure to protect my child parent to another – check your settings, regularly!!
Back to the bigger issue, that my 11 year old has now seen films that gave me a sleepless night. Switch on responsible, open and honest parent head it’s time to have a conversation about sex I’d not wanted to have just yet.
And this is where he surprised me and I saw him torn between the kid he still wants to be and the pressures of being a ‘tween’ today. When asked, he openly admitted to seeing inappropriate films, squirming uncomfortably as I asked him how, why etc, but spoke to me like a grown up. After a long chat and some basic talk about sex he asked me something. He doesn’t want to know more yet, he thinks he needs to know more before going to secondary school but right now he’s happy not knowing and would rather wait. So we made a pact – with a full on handshake and pinky swear! If he’s curious or has heard stuff at school that makes him uncomfortable or he wants to know about so he doesn’t look stupid, he’ll ask. And I won’t talk about it for a few more months.
I’m not sure how this will go and I’m not naive to know that this is just the beginning and what we need to do is talk more, not less. But what it has made me see is that we need to up our game. Society is moving fast, we need to too. We need to be on top of our kids and what they are exposed to every day. And I don’t mean sheltering them, especially if they are with other kids in the school playground. For me, whats more important is beginning the conversation and having a good relationship where your kids can come to you with anything whatever it may be and not feel scared to do so. I’m by no means there with that yet, and am under no illusion that he probably doesn’t like talking to his mum about this stuff (who would!), but he knows I’m ok with it and want to talk to him. My door is open…. and I’ll tell him everything he wants to know. For now he’s said that’s enough …. it won’t be long before we have to talk again though I’m sure!
So after a ban on Youtube for a couple of weeks, some serious chat, a cry, a hug and a pinky pact, drama 1 of the tween years is over.
Kids have a tough time during this ‘inbetween stage’, wanting so much to fit it and have friends but also deep down just wanting to be a kid and not needing to know the facts of life just yet. It’s my job to foresee this, I failed with Youtube and his curiosity over the word ‘sex’ being banded about the playground …. but I’m on it now…. bring it on tween years!
(For anyone who wants to change Youtube settings check here )
‘Patience is the best remedy for every trouble’ – just happened to be my sons fortune cookie tonight which he pointedly shared with a secret grin that only we knew how much it really meant to us both!