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.