Children growing up is no easy task for any parent. When they are young, they tend to be with you all of the time or you always know where they are and who they are talking to. It's a wonderful time to look back on, but it soon comes to a close and you start to lose control.
Your children can talk to friends through their phones and via a number of different networks, and I have always been inclined to give them their own privacy and to let them control their destinies. It's a lovely theory, but sadly it does not always play out as intended.
We have taken necessary steps to ensure that they use technology wisely. Neither has Facebook accounts, but my daughter is allowed to use Instagram and FaceTime with her friends. My son uses Snapchat and other networks, but he has reached a point where I am not too concerned.
He is now 14 and his personality is a bit like mine. His friends can have banter with him and call him every name under the sun and he really does not care. It just washes over him because deep down he is ultra-confident in himself and appears to genuinely believe that he is above it all. Some see it as arrogance, and maybe it is, but I do not worry about him because the world is what it is to him and he appears to understand what is going on much more than should be expected of someone so young. This naturally means that we worry less about him.
My daughter, however, who is 11, is having a different problem with technology and despite our best efforts to deal with it, we are seeing first hand how much it can effect someone. She is dyslexic and as such is currently reading books slightly below her reading age. She is also quite immature in how she sees the world and thus still expects everyone to be nice all of the time.
When her friend told her that one of the boys in her class called her a 'retard' on a WhatsApp group chat she got upset. This was followed by a discussion where one of the girls in her class was pushing others to be rude to her the next day at school.
As you can imagine, she was very upset and more so because she has suffered problems for many weeks now and we have already spoken to her teacher about this. She missed a few days sick, which turned out to be her really not wanting to go to school, and we have done everything we can to ensure that she attends every day and to get the right support for her from her school.
There is one girl in particular who is the main ringleader and, how do I put this, obviously has problems if you know what I mean. She called Alice over and over again via FaceTime and would not speak, and yet Alice felt the need to call her back every time. Alice does not understand what is going on really, but it got to the point where I had to block her number and email address because I will not have her bullied at home, a place where she should always be able to feel comfortable even if problems are happening at school.
It struck me that if a child is bullied, it is all so easy for the bullies to contact them using a variety of means 24 hours a day. Even worse, I soon realised that Alice kept checking her phone to see what they were saying about her and always wanted to know what was going on. This naturally upset me because it made me realise my mistake in the past when national stories were written about children who had committed suicide. I always wondered why they let the other children do it and why they continued to be open to such abuse, but now I see that the human desire to know what people are saying about you likely outweighs every other emotion.
When my daughter is at home now she cannot be contacted by the children who are doing this, but it is a constant battle because her genuine friends tend to tell her what is going on with good intentions. I can't hide her from the world because that could be just as damaging, but it is interesting how the rise of mobile technology opens up a child to contact every hour of the day, and some of it is not positive at all. To sum up, we have little control anymore and that is an uneasy feeling for any parent who naturally wants to make their children feel safe.
We will have a meeting with the school again this week and I will explain to them that this will not continue. It is incredibly difficult for them, I understand that, but there are things they can do to contain the situation in school time. The problem, however, is that the technology people like me love so much continues to be negative for so many people who are genuinely decent. I have always defended the tech and blamed the individuals because they will always find a way to hurt others. I guess social networks and mobile tech do give them the space they need, however, to attack in a cowardly fashion.
Perhaps it is a good thing that she understands there are many nasty people in the world at an early age, but it doesn't feel that way at the moment.