Come on hands up do you really know what your kids are saying online? Can you honestly say you know what they are doing? What they are posting? Do you even know if your kid's online or not?
I didn't know my eldest was online.
I didn't know he was on Instagram.
I didn't know he'd got himself into a situation - one that was rapidly becoming toxic.
For heck's sake he's only 10!
I thought I was being so clever. I thought I had it all under control. I had given him an iPod what, two years ago... I had it so that it was essentially registered to me and anything he added to it would always show up on my account and on my iPad.
I had the usual buying apps without asking, sneaking face time with Granny at 10pm on a school night, playing games when he should have been doing homework/sleeping/getting ready for school but I had not had him actually on-line for real.
But things change...
At the end of last term The Boy's two best mates left the school and while I was concerned I knew he'd be fine. He gets on with everyone.
What I had not expected was that he'd start to try too hard in an effort to fit in and be accepted. So last week they were all off on a day trip and during the bus journey there the kid persuaded him to join Instagram. Of course he was flattered and everyone gave him their tags and he started to follow them all. He watched what they did and tried to join in. But he doesn't really know the etiquette and made a classic blunder.
He tagged a whole load of kids when he uploaded a photo of himself with his fingers pointing like a gun at his head. He didn't realise he should have pout a witty one liner caption on the photo or that he possibly should not have tagged all and sundry.
The first response was why did you tag me, then there was another why, then a child said the photo was the most cringeworthy photo they had ever seen, the next was about perhaps The Boy wanted to kill them, there were a whole load more who kept asking why were they tagged. There were a lot of blank/angry/puzzled emoticons and The Boy was overwhelmed and did not understand. He said he came in peas and got a more grief for poor spelling.
Basically the situation started to go toxic and The Boy brooded. Kept stealing looks at the comments trying to figure out what he had done wrong. And it was when he stole the iPod on evening that I caught him and found out what was going on. Found out that I had had no idea that he was online.
I don't think the kids he was online to really understood that they were taking things out of proportion or how much hurt they cased. It was a kind of pack mentality - but we know that it has to start somewhere. And for me this is a wake up call.
If half the parents realised what their kids were saying and doing online I very much doubt that half the children would be allowed.
I told the school to watch my son; I have taken him off Instagram until he can handle it. I am never going to get complacent again...
My approach now is three pronged.
School - when they talk about Cyberbullying and what you should do to make yourself safe online I suggested that they also talk about how to behave online.
The Boy - I am going to organise for him to be taught (along with me and his father) how to use Instgram/Twitter etc and how to behave online and what to do when faced with problems such as this, how to report bad behaviour and also how to minimise damage caused.
Parents - I am going to ask that worst question in the world that any parent can be asked: Is your Child a Cyberbully? Are they or could they be part of a pack that sends another child over the edge? Do you know what your children are saying/doing online? And the biggest of all: if you don't know why not!!!!!