I am used to proclamations of dramatic proportions when I am trying to get ready for an evening out. This time it was a bit different.
‘Will you love me no matter what I do?’ asked my son Jamie looking sullen.
‘Of course,’ I replied, ‘no matter what’.
‘Even if say I killed lots of people.’
‘Yes, even if you did that. Is there something you need to tell me?’
He looked into the distance, ‘no, no I don’t think so.’
Just as I was leaving to go out, he insisted that I take my mobile phone with me. I thought to myself ’how sweet, he’s worried about me.’
We arrived at the village hall, which is what passes for a great entertainment venue here in Mudtropolis and as it is in the land of no signal, eight texts immediately downloaded to my mobile phone. Six are from Jamie. I didn’t have chance to read them all in detail but the general gist was ‘sorry my mum you are sticking with me for the hell I have put you through you may wish you were not my mum but you are …….’ I assumed he was experiencing a sudden and unusual flush of guilt for past incidents and again thought to myself ‘how lovely, maybe we are turning a corner’. It is only on the way back home that I read the texts properly and nearly fell over, ‘this thing called FACEBOOK I can use as a guest and I used you email address and now I know I am in big trouble and I really really think I should have a big consequence’. I won’t repeat the word that I said at that point.
I ran into the house, switched on my laptop and watched open-mouthed as ten and tens of emails downloaded which were all entitled ‘FACEBOOK’. Then I felt sick.
It is worth saying a bit about why I had such a strong reaction to something which is so widely used. Our children are our children as a result of a closed UK adoption, an adoption which took place in a court well-away from where we live, in order to keep all our identities secure. Apart from the usual considerations (not wanting to be tracked down by violent birth family members chief amongst them) some of our details had been leaked by an agency which should have known better. So we have all lived under a certain amount of fear and vigilance. Jamie in particular has nightmares about being taken.
Jamie is eleven and has been asking to use Facebook for about twelve months. Although Facebook’s own policy dictates that children must be at least 13 to use it’s services, absolutely all Jamie’s friends use it, I am the only mean stricty mother and I am preventing him from experiencing untold levels of happiness (the same is also said of Black Ops, certificate 18 on X-Box).
I like to think of myself as an open-minded, modern kind of parent and so I had explained in the past why using Facebook at his age, irrespective of the other issues is not appropriate and how, when the time is right, I will set up his Facebook profile with him. I had encouraged other parents to echo what I was saying in his presence. I was pleased with myself. He appeared to understand and accept.
Here’s where I went wrong. I had left Jamie alone with our main computer and my laptop. There were parental controls on the computer, but they didn’t include Facebook. Jamie ‘borrowed’ my email address from my laptop, which I had left open and on. This allowed him to set up his profile which included his real name, the name of the village we live in, the name of his school, his date of birth and his mobile phone number. None of this information had any security settings whatsoever. He made twenty five friends and searched for a birth family member. He did all this in thirty minutes.
Rob and I spent an hour deleting Jamie’s profile and even now I can’t be sure that some of his information isn’t out there forever. Thanks to my twitter friends, I was linked to the CEOP website which contains lots of useful information about keeping safe on the internet. I’ve read it. I sat Jamie down with it too. And we had a long talk about it over tea which I hope has gone some way to help him understand. But whether he’s accepted it is another matter and that’s why we’ve had to wise up.
For now I’ve told Jamie that when he is thirteen, we will look at the Facebook issue again. He wants more than anything to be just like his friends and when he insists that all his friends are using Facebook, he is not so far off the mark. I would estimate that 80 – 90% of them are and some are younger than him. And from what I saw, many aren’t by any means using it safely. I can understand why Jamie might wish I could be like the majority of parents. But even if he was my natural-born, I wouldn’t be.
Jamie’s foray into Facebook could have turned out much much worse than it did and I’m glad of the lesson it taught me.
Sounds like a painful lesson learned for Jamie as well as you – good that he told you what he had done, rather than you finding out another way. Keep being the mean, stricty mother – it’s for his protection, as I think he realises now.
It does get boring though doesn’t it, always being the stricty mother. One minute kids aren’t allowed to eat cheese strings or watch The Simpsons, the next they’re all watching 18 films and posting dubious pictures on Facebook. I don’t understand what’s happened!
Thanks for your comment A.
I don’t think you are alone in these worries. You have even more reason to be protective over your family due to your circumstances. I have a daughter the same age and have had similar problems. She wasn’t allowed a phone for example which made me the ‘worst mother in the world who is ruining her life’ – eventually 2 mnths ago she got one for her birthday – which was immediately ‘lost’ after protests it wasn’t a blackberry or iphone. Blackberry being the ultimate as it has bb messenger – but I have seen her friends typing away on it – sending pictures.. they do not have any awareness of what they are sending and how to behave on these things. She was not allowed a facebook either despite all her friends being on there – I was the only mother again who was anti it. I explained to her why. She made one anyway behind my back and when I found out (thanks to seeing her profile linked as a friend on a friend of mines page) I was very cross – she had pictures of herself with make up on, she was saying silly things but then some of it was swearing and text talk – her friends were much worse – there was a lot of ‘oh you are ugly ‘ comments from silly boys and you could just see how these children can get themselves into all kinds of trouble with the internet. I have had to clamp down on her use of the internet – we have had a big talk about it and hopefully she has seen the light. But I do blame other parents for letting their kids have access to stuff like this and increasing the pressure on everyone else to do the same. I hope you remain safe. x
Thanks Smurfy. You are right on the money, if everyone kept to the age limit there wouldn’t be the massive peer pressure. What I saw the other night made my eyes water, it was like an open invitation for undesirables.
Thank you for sharing this on your blog,ever since we adopted our daughter I have deleted myself from Facebook for security reasons and I know when she is your son’s age she will probably do the same thing.Her birth mum has met us and all the family and worry constantly we will cross paths,but for now it wont be through f.b,children are so vulnerable and innocent in many ways and I personally think schools should educate them more on internet dangers.It is difficult for us parents to monitor everything and frightening how quickly your son managed to do it, there is too much peer pressure also and the feeling of them wanting to be the same as everyone else and the excitement of the unknown.
We have every right to safe guard our children and I would rather be over protective than let them do anything like some parents.I remember when my space came out, my step daughter put all her details,school, full name ,mobile, she had no idea the dangers behind something that was done innocently!I did have a blog but got a few trolls which upset me but I guess that’s why they do it!Be safe,inca x
Thanks for your comment Inca. Education is certainly part of it, although I have to admit that my son received great information through school about keeping safe and appeared to be quite scared by it. I thought that this had done the trick, but clearly the ‘pull’ was stronger than I thought. But at least now I know and can be more vigilant.
You keep safe too.
This sounds a difficult lesson for him to learn. Facebook is an adoption minefield (and can be a big issue for other children too).
Just wanted to say thankyou for your blog and tweets. We are hoping to start down that road very soon and it’s been amazing reading your posts – I feel like we are getting an honest and realistic picture of what it can be like from you
Thank you. I sometimes worry that I might put potential adopters off with my honesty, so I’m glad to hear you don’t feel that way. Although it has been challenging at times, we don’t regret it for a moment. Good luck with your journey.
How apt that you have blogged about FB!Only yesterday in the Primary school staff room where I work, I spoke of one of the 10yr olds asking if he could add me as a friend. I pointed out the fact that he was underage and he replied with the usual “so!”, a response one comes to recognise as a common rebellious answer to any statement made to a child trying to well hard/cool/in control of their lives! I was curious what he would possibly want to know about my life as i certainly didn’t want to read entries of his saying that someone currently out of favour smells etc. I’ve been amazed on my FB account how many of my friends know each other without me knowing and it shows what a small world in which we live.
Don’t know what’s so wrong with kids being allowed to remain innocent for as long as possible without being bombarded with adult stuff! We have daily discussions about how unfair we are with our 10yr old. This is usually on the subject of not having a mobile phone. I have issues that he could be communicating with goodness knows who and what does he actually need to say to children he’s been with all day anyway. But also a phone is no longer just a phone and the internet is a mindfield of inappropriate knowledge and content which could be accessed in whatever location he chooses. A desktop being static gives us control on it’s location and we can police it, check history etc.
We also get it in the neck about the 18 cert consol games he’s not allowed to play. They are certificated for a reason but i am totally amazed by the amount of children at school who access them. My son reinacted slashing my other sons throat the other day because he’d been told about it on the playground by another child who had played a particular inapproapriate computer game. The head was shocked when i told her and she spoke to the child in question but she is powerless to tell parents what to do in their own homes and what they deem suitable for their impressionable children is up to them.
I don’t give a monkeys how unfair my children believe we are, because what they experience at home is all we can control and we shall as long as possible. There’s plenty of time for them to be overwhelmed by adult stuff or is that just me?
Judging by the comments here and on twitter, it is not just you by any means (or me). But it can feel that way. I’m pushing against the tide but I try and test my decisions – am I doing this to keep my child safe or could I be a bit less controlling? I will man up and admit that although it’s usually the former, sometimes it’s the latter too.
Thanks for your comment.
Thanks for sharing this Sally. It must have been a huge worry for you but I think you’ve handled it brilliantly. The online world is a nightmare for parents. I tried to hold back as long as possible and managed to get my son to the age of 13 before he asked for an FB account, due to peer pressure from kids in his class at school. He was the only one not on FB in his class which in itself was becoming an issue for him; he felt excluded. It was a tough decision; do I continue to ban him and risk him feeling further excluded from his peer group or go along with the majority. In the end I tried to compromise and agreed he would have FB as long as he agreed to me checking his account now and then.
Yes, checking their page seems to be the way to go, I will have to work out a way of doing it without giving away my own identity (in a few years time).
And sometimes adults seem to discuss inappropriate things on FB too (bedroom antics etc) and their profiles are open to their children and the friends of their children. It’s the sort of thing that could scar a person for life!
Thanks for your comment.