Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Do you know who your children are talking to online? Online chat with 'friends' & keeping an eye on your children's online presence.

We recently had a few issues with school/social media and friendship issues with one of our children which then involved a meeting with the school. 

On the day I assumed I would go into school and everything we had talked about previously would be brought up and they would explain how they were dealing with the issues and that was it. 

As the meeting progressed I was shocked and slightly taken aback to find out that my child had been talking in online chat groups with people they classed as 'friends'. 

They had started by playing a game that millions of children play each day and that we were fully aware of. We try not to let them lock themselves in their room and hide away and we thought we were aware of what they were doing online. Mainly using the home PC that we have and we generally pop in and out to check on them and what they are doing. 

Our child had then been told about another place to go and online chat with everyone. This is what we didn't know about. As they had been talking online with the same 'friends' for ages on the game they went over to the other chat group and continued their chat there. 

It was said that a lot of them talked about every day life, the games they were playing, what they were up to etc.... Nothing bad. However, some of them talked about issues they have and my child said they tried to help them if they could. 

They are a very sensitive child and they said that they tried to help others where they could but I am sure some of what these 'friends' were talking about had more of an affect my child more than it maybe would have others. I am sure they may have also spoken about things to these 'friends' about what was going at school recently too. 

People these days love to hide behind their phones and PCs. Social media has boomed over recent years and the amount of things posted online whether via Facebook, Instagram or any social media outlet means that we seem to keep in touch more online than we do in person these days. However it also means people think they can bully online, say mean things, post horrible pictures and it won’t affect the person involved. 

‘Oh I called them a horrible name but I didn’t say it to their face’. This does not make it ok or any less hurtful to the person involved. Words hurt whether spoken or not. People have feelings whether they hear something or read something. 

The effect of this and more is that a few weeks ago I found our child had self harmed. I’ve not told many people. I’ve not even really said the words ‘self-harmed’ out loud even to myself. I don’t want to admit that one of my babies has been driven to hurting themselves because others have bullied them and hurt them in a way that they probably are completely oblivious to or told them that if they are feeling down or low that this is something they can do. They have scars now and I still can't believe that they were driven to do this by someone who suggested it or maybe spoke or acted in a way I find totally unnecessary.

My child has been dealing with difficult situations in school too and so coming home and talking to people online about their day and about what has been happening. I was so upset and angry with myself that I hadn't noticed they had found this new chat room to talk in and we have since deleted it and keep an eye on everything they are doing. We limit screen time where we can and have screen free days too. 

Could I have done more? Should I have been more observant? Why didn't I pick up on anything sooner?

An update before publishing my post; School responded to us extremely promptly after I emailed them regarding the most recent incident at school. They apologised that they couldn't find a copy of my first email and they reassured me that my child is our first priority. The child involved with the school incident will be spoken to at school and the parents will be called regarding their child's behaviour. School have also been very supportive in keeping an eye on the self harm situation and working alongside us to repeat the importance of online safety. I will be keeping a very close eye on the situation to make sure nothing else happens again. 

So limit your child's screen time and social media time, frequently check on what they are doing and that they are only talking to friends. Have chats about what is and isn’t acceptable when it comes to being online and make sure they know the importance of internet safety. We can never be 100% certain who they are talking to and it's so easy to feel like we are talking to 'friends' even though we have never met them. 

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