A few months ago, a nine-year-old friend of one of my daughters started following me on Instagram.
I was surprised to see someone so young on there, because it really is an adult platform and there are age limits for a reason. I asked my girls about it and they shrugged and told me this girl is allowed to do whatever she wants on the internet, her mum doesn’t have rules like I do. Not only does she have an Instagram account, she’s on Facebook and Snapchat too.
(The internet isn’t the only place the rules of this particular household don’t match up with mine, and I have no reason to doubt they were telling the truth. I have had to ban playdates and say no to sleepovers because there are no rules and boundaries over there, and ain’t nobody got time for that.)
But wait a minute. Back it up a bit there, little ladies… SNAP FREAKING CHAT?! You know, the one where the pictures are erased after they are sent? That would be a pedo’s dream app. What could a child possibly need to use Snapchat for? Especially when none of her real-life same-aged friends would ever be allowed on it to talk to her in a month of Sundays.
This, of course, resulted in a tale of woe from them about how this girl would call them “babies” because they weren’t all over social media like she was.
I am a hard arse about what I will and will not allow my kids to do online and I make no apologies for it. Other parents can be as permissive and lax about online safety as they want with their children, but those minimum age requirements stated in a social media network’s user terms and conditions is there for a reason.
I wasn’t born yesterday. I’ve been using the internet since 1995. I’ve seen everything that’s awesome online, and all the shitty, dodgy things as well. Before social media was even a thing, I knew I was going to be hardcore about monitoring my kids’ internet usage. And that was when I was just worried about them accessing pornography, chat rooms with sexual predators, and general internet weirdness.
Enter social media and there’s a whole other minefield that I hadn’t considered 11 years ago when I had my first baby. But the premise is the same: it’s all about having hardcore rules and being prepared to put your money where your mouth is because you’re the parent.
Any parent who could just let their kids float around the internet unsupervised has either never really looked at the internet and is naive, or just doesn’t give a stuff.
Kids can access all sorts of stuff on their tablets and laptops and other devices. But you know what? They can’t access anything on their devices if you take them away from them.
My middle daughter has learned this the hard way. She attempted to sign up for a chat site in violation of our household internet usage rules. She got a stern warning.
Then, a few months later, she attempted to set a Twitter account up for herself. She lost access to her tablet for several months.
There have been no other incidents since then, but I am vigilant and keep an eagle eye on what they are up to online.
Another mum I know doesn’t see the big deal. She thinks that if you lock their privacy settings up as tight as tight can be, there’s not much that can go wrong for them on social media. She says if you friend your kids on social media, you can keep a good eye on what they are doing.
Here’s the thing: I don’t really want my kids, at their ages, being my friends on social media anyway. They don’t need to be part of the conversations I have with my adult friends on social media which range from gross to very sweary. There is absolutely zero benefit for primary school children to be on there, but a helluva lot of terrible consequences for them if they are.
Even offline, I’m not overly interested in being their friends. I’m their parent, not their mate. Maybe when they’re older we’ll have a friendship. We get along well, but first and foremost, I’m there to look out for them in a way their friends never can or will.
A few weeks ago another young girl followed my Instagram account. I didn’t know her, but her profile information said she was 8 years old, a dancer and “sexy”. I wondered if her parents knew she was on there or if they were actually okay with her presenting like that in a sea of so many potential predators.
I reported her account. Because, like I said, I’m a hard arse. And a dibber-dobber.