July 17, 2013


Bernard is imminently going to stop being an Infant and start being a Junior. This feels like a huge step, and uniform-buying has commenced. I have even sourced the correct triangular pencils (but only one of them, supplemented by cheap Tesco pencils).

Paperwork for the new school includes the SMART internet user policy:

I know that people online might not be who they say the are. Online games, chat rooms, message boards and social networking sites are fun but they can be dangerous because I don’t always know who I am talking to. I will also always be myself online and will not pretend to be anyone or anything I am not.

The first part of this seems pretty sensible. We discussed it with reference to the in-game chat on Terraria. But using an online role-playing game as an example rather undermines, if you’ll pardon the pun, the second part. To me the internet is a place rather like Mr Benn’s costume shop, where you can have weird and wonderful adventures, talk to people you would never meet in real life, see and hear things you’ve never been exposed to before. To Bernard it’s just the place where you look things up.

I’m not trying to speak universally here, or to suggest that the school rules are wrong; but noticing how deeply embedded the internet is in our life here at Casa U. In a house where it’s usual for wine to be available on the table at mealtimes, alcohol isn’t an exciting mystery to be over-indulged in at every opportunity. We have been using it to find things out, and for entertainment and communication all his life, and we’re rather hoping the netsmarts will just rub off on him.

I never arrange to meet an online friend, no matter how well I think I know them, unless I have permission from my parent, carer or teacher.

On the one hand, I absolutely do not agree to his teacher giving him permission to do meet an online friend, and can’t imagine any circumstances where that would work. Bernard knows that almost our entire social circle consists of online friends, with several of whom we have perfectly ordinary days out with the kids. So again, meeting online friends is so completely normal here that explaining this rule provoked an interesting discussion. And what child doesn’t want to know the story of how his parents met?

I was more impressed by Graybo‘s report from the IT safety talk at his son’s school:

There is much that is good about the internet, but we need to empower our kids to be able to tell the good from the bad so that they get the most from this great resource.

That, I think, is where I’m at with this. Not to outlaw it, but to learn how to enjoy it. Not to assume that everyone you meet online is a reprobate, but to assume that no-one is quite who they present themselves as, and to understand why that is and how it works. In here, shy people can be gregarious, anti-social people can make friends, people having a hard time can get support, people can find out that there’s a name for the way they feel and that they’re not the only one to feel it. A 32-year old woman can step out of a shattered life into a fresh new world, and find a man she would never, ever have met in real life. Give your kids a pair of cynical shades, not blinkers.


11 thoughts on “Safeguarding

  1. “In here, shy people can be gregarious, anti-social people can make friends, people having a hard time can get support, people can find out that there’s a name for the way they feel and that they’re not the only one to feel it”.

    Beautifully put.

  2. So in Juniors are they let loose unsupervised online? Bar having to ask a teacher before they go and meet an online friend, of course. Perhaps you should volunteer to help them update their policy?

    Lisa on July 17, 2013
  3. I can’t imagine they’re completely let loose. I would like to update it, actually, but they’ll just think I’m a loon if I offer. Best let them figure that out for themselves in their own time… I’ve got four years of being a thorn-in-the-side parent at that school 🙂

  4. They won’t think you are a loon. (They might write your name down in the special book.) They will probably just ignore you or, depending on the school, have you in doing *everything*. I was so horrified by the state of our school’s New Prospectus 3 years ago that I offered to edit and proof any publications they liked. Told them I was properly qualified and experienced not just an enthusiast. Not a sausage.

  5. Apparently, multi-player games with in-game chat are being used by groomers, so need to be treated with some caution. Our IT speaker said that the Disney-run ones were the worst, and that their organisation had been lobbying Disney to do something about it, but had found only deaf ears. He felt that Disney have some social responsibility here, particularly because if you ask a parent which sites they trust their 7yo kid to go to, they would probably list Disney, Nickelodeon, BBC/CBBC and CITV.

    In fact, one of our parent cohort had experience of their child using Roblox and chatting to a user with the tag “Ilikepervyppl”. So take care on that one.

    One of the things that was underlined to us was to worry less about sexual grooming and more about internet security. The bad guys have sussed out that the kids are more likely to reveal personal data than grown ups. He had one good bit of advice to avoid dodgy geezers – it’s ok for (young) kids to talk about the past online (I went to Fred’s party, I went to the beach, etc) and less good to talk about the future (I’m going to x beach tomorrow, I’m going to x’s house tonight). That way, creepy stalker types might know where you’ve been, but don’t know where you’re going. For young kids, especially the slightly older ones (10-12) who might walk to a friend’s house alone, it’s a simple safety measure.

    Finally, on the subject of proofing, I’m delighted to see that in Casa U, you use wine to help you find things out, for entertainment and communication. We do that too.

  6. Talking about past events is a good guideline and one that I will discuss with Bernard when he graduates to playing things like that on his own. At the moment he is mostly offline and only does multiplayer games with strangers, sitting alongside Pete.

  7. I liked the past vs future thing – seemed a simple rule that would not spoil the fun of the internet too much.

    How does Pete cope with sitting and watching Bernard playing multiplayers? I’d be bored rigid (so don’t let Tom play them because I think my brain would turn to dust and fall out of my ears).

  8. Oh, Pete does the playing. Bernard does the watching. And back-seat driving.

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