Ten years ago, my fourteen-year-old daughter started to socialise with a new set of friends who I knew nothing about. She started to stay out later than she was allowed, became more secretive, and our relationship became more confrontational. I decided to use the ‘Find my iPhone’ app to track where she was going. One Friday night, when she was supposed to be curled up on her friend’s sofa eating popcorn and watching a Disney movie, I looked her up on the app. It indicated that she was five miles away, near a popular nightclub area. I immediately jumped into my car and drove to the nightclub, where low and behold, she was sitting outside with a bottle of beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other, having a laugh with her new friends. I stomped over, shouted at her through gritted teeth to, “Get in the car, NOW!”, and marched her back to the car. This was the beginning of the end of our mother and daughter relationship. Now, when my daughter reflects on this incident, she says that she felt humiliated, that her privacy had been violated and that she couldn’t trust me anymore. It took us years, and lots of sleeplessness nights, to build that trusting relationship back up again.
As a former police officer and Open-Source Intelligence E-Tutor, I know only too well the dangers that exist online for our children, particularly our teenagers. I know how easy it is to find out private information about people on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc and how criminals exploit our lack of awareness about what we are actually sharing about ourselves when we use social media sites. I can understand why parents would turn to parental control apps such as Net Nanny or Myspy, but once you show your hand and your child/teenager knows that you are in control of their online footprint, this is where they can go underground and circumvent your efforts to control them. More importantly, it also breaks any trust which you have between you.
Now, ten years on from the fall out of the use of that ‘Find my IPhone’ App, my daughter and I both agree that parental control apps may make parents feel safer about their child’s online footprint, but they are not the Zauberkugel (magic bullet) that parents think they are. As parents we want to protect our children, but children have to learn how to protect themselves. The best thing we can do is to educate our children about the online dangers that exist and how they can keep themselves safe. However, parents also need to recognise the dangers, educate themselves in online safety and talk to their children about how, as a family, you can keep safe in the online world. Remember, many, many adults also fall victim to online scams, so it will benefit everyone if YOU know how to protect your digital footprint and then you can pass this knowledge on to your family.
Read my four Top Tech Tips on how to stay safe online by clicking below: