Within a few days of joining Facebook I was sent a photo of a penis entering a vagina. It came by surprise. No conversation, no foreplay, no promise of a candlelit meal afterwards. Just a photo. And a request to be his friend.
I didn’t know the “gentleman” who sent it, so I couldn’t tell you if the penis belonged to him nor could I tell you what he hoped to gain from sending it to me. Perhaps he thought I’d be impressed? Perhaps he was looking for feedback? Perhaps he thought I was a medic and was hoping for some advice on that suspicious looking mole? To help him out I showed the photo to family, friends, work colleagues, anyone really; and having gauged their opinion replied to him.
But what initially made me laugh now started to raise questions in my mind. If I could be sent an inappropriate photo on social media what images could my nine-year-old daughter be vulnerable to? As her mother what should I be doing to protect her?
The website ‘Get Safe Online’ is the UK’s leading source of unbiased, factual and easy-to-understand information on online safety. Getsafeonline.org lists the main risks for children on social networking sites as:
- befriending or talking with a stranger who may be stalking them
- cyberbullying from either strangers or people they already know
- being scammed by downloading or linking to hoax content
- identity theft by revealing private information in profiles and posts
The website goes on to identify the ways in which your child could be targeted such as gaming sites, social networking, instant messaging, file sharing, cyberstalking, etc.
Is it just me or is this really overwhelming?
As if there wasn’t enough mother guilt already, I now feel terrible for not putting more protection factors in place for my daughter.
I’d heard of parental controls but was unsure what system was the best or how to set them up. I just didn’t think I needed to be worrying about this until high school. How naïve I was!
With very little knowledge, I took it back to basics and asked my daughter what worries her about using the internet and social media. She replied, “people being mean” and “seeing naked people” which matches the results of a recent report by the Education Policy Institute “Social Media and Children’s Mental Health: a review of the evidence” (June 2017).
Surprisingly it reported that “only about a quarter of the children who saw sexual content online found it upsetting” but less surprising, cyberbullying can have a negative impact on a child’s emotional wellbeing.
It also highlighted that attempts to protect children are inefficient. It suggested instead that
“the focus of public policy should be on how to develop resilience in young people to potential risks associated with social media use”.
This makes sense as a parent cannot completely protect children from risks and so it is therefore better to teach our children how to protect themselves.
NSPCC’s website is very user friendly and provides guidance on building children’s online safety skills. The themes of the guides are:
- How to talk to your child about online safety
- Online games: helping children to play safe
- Keeping children safe from sexting
- Online porn
Let’s not forget that the internet and social media is growing, not fading, and will be a huge part of our children’s lives in the future.
There are so many positive impacts of social media which, with support from us, can benefit our children such as developing identity; sharing creative projects; and addressing loneliness which in itself is a cause of poor mental health.
Although my research into online safeguarding started earlier than I predicted it has been interesting and important to read up on it. I hope that this hits home with you and that you can use some of the information I’ve provided below. Please let me know what you think (in the comments below) or if you have any other suggestions, I’ll gratefully receive them.
And in case you were wondering what I replied to penis man – I told him that I had my own willy but I wasn’t going to send him a photo because that my friend would be sexual harassment. We are no longer ‘friends’.
- Get Safe Online.org
- Education Policy Institute “Social Media and Children’s Mental Health: a review of the evidence” (June 2017).
This story is part of the Life Seeker newspaper