As any parent will know, regulating a maverick network like the internet to protect children from its dangers is much easier said than done.
But that shouldn’t stop you from trying, as new research has found that nearly half (49 per cent) of all British children lie to their parents about what they’re actually doing online, often pretending to be doing homework when, in fact, they’re on social networking sites.
And one in three admitted they’d be in trouble if their parents knew what they were looking at.
According to the Carphone Warehouse Mobile Life report, which questioned 3,000 British children aged 11-18, the overwhelming majority (87 per cent) of UK parents believe they’re fully aware of what they’re children are doing online – and yet one in 10 kids have had sexually explicit conversations online, with some (10 per cent) actually going on to meet someone in person they initially met on the net.
While worrying, such statistics should actually encourage parents to be more open and communicative with their children, says technoparent and model Rachel Hunter, whose two children, Liam, 13, and Renee, 16, are constantly on the computer.
“When I first got our computer, I made sure to be very open with my kids,” explains Rachel. “We went through the basic rights and wrongs on computers and I told them that if they ever felt uncomfortable, to come let me know.
“But they do everything online – social networking, homework, research. It’s a huge part of their life and they need to know its dangers.”
What worked best for her kids, says Rachel, is telling them the actual ins and outs of how the internet works.
“I’m a very black and white person, so I like to work out the negative before knowing what I can be positive about. I let them know that internet life is a blueprint: once you start, you can’t just delete or get rid of it. There’s a whole history of what you’ve been looking at, and just because you push delete doesn’t mean it goes away. Once they found out about that, they started paying more attention to what they were doing online.”
Rachel is proud of the fact that her children have never had any problems online, and attributes that to how openly she’s discussed the net and its potential pitfalls with them.
“For the most part I use the internet to stay in touch with friends and family,” says the model, who divorced former husband Rod Stewart in 1996 and now resides in LA with their children.
But without the internet, Rachel says, staying in touch with friends and family in New Zealand, New York or England. would be very hard indeed.
And other parents tend to agree, as the Mobile Life report found that 80 per net of children feel that kids without internet access at home are disadvantaged when it comes to their education.
“My kids find some of the most amazing stuff online,” agrees Rachel.
“They’re of a completely different generation from me and they pick it up really quickly.
“I’m still amazed at how you can get a whole review of a book online, or spend hours rummaging around and finding funny things like YouTube, which has been a massive place for laughs.
“Without a doubt, it’s become the TV of our kids’ generation.”
But until the web becomes better regulated, it’s up to the parents to institute a watershed.