Monday, 20 October 2014

Safe Surfing for Piglets

Uh I didn't actually mean Zorro the Surfing Piglet, LOL. What I'm looking at here are some of the issues I faced as Piglet took to the World Wide Web.

Piglet has been online for a few years now, and has her own blogs. (Can't think where she got the idea from.)

From the start, I was of course anxious about her safety. When she started surfing the net, there was very little advice around about how to manage children's access to the internet, however now there are some useful sites which discuss issues you are likely to come across.

Mumsnet Internet Safety Advice
Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre 
National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children

These are the rules that I put in place. The main one is, I tell Piglet that if she isn't comfortable, she should immediately sign out of whatever she's playing and come and tell me. There have been two or three incidents friends have experienced, nothing dramatic but enough to make me sure I'm not being paranoid. I knew from the start that apart from buying a time machine and zooming us back to pre-internet days, the only way to make sure Piglet didn't get into difficulties online was to teach her to take care of herself.
Pic from here.

Rule 1 - The computer was kept and should only be used in the kitchen, where I could look over at the screen sometimes and check what was on it. There were times when Piglet did get to take her laptop upstairs, to watch a film, etc, but it lived in the kitchen so it always came back here. (Piglet had her own laptop from an early age for reasons I'll explain in another blogpost.)

I operated censorship around what websites Piglet could belong to, asking other mums what their kids were on. Facebook and adult sites of that kind were just banned. Sites featuring incredibly skinny girls wearing revolting outfits were permitted but I expressed scorn about them and refused to pay for extra access on them. I think the one site I agreed to pay for was Moshi Monsters.

Moshi Monsters is educational, it's designed by teachers to foster social skills and it's well monitored. It was a very useful introduction for Piglet to the Wonderful World of Web-based bullying. All kinds of kids were immediately asking to befriend her when she joined, but I said that she must only be friends with ones she knew in the flesh from school. Helpfully a charming young lady from the Piglet Seminary for Totally Ordinary Piglets left her a message one day saying something sophisticated like: 'You are poo hahaha'. I was able to talk Piglet through de-friending this child online, and discuss whether to tell its mum. "You see," I added, "because we know Poo-child and I know her mum, we can sort the problem out, but if this was one of those children whom you don't know in real life, we wouldn't have been able to do anything." 

Minecraft village on Wikihow
Now Piglet is older, she goes online to play via the X Box which is in the living room.

I can't keep as close an eye on her as I used to, but I will still stop and watch what's happening sometimes. When Piglet protests and says she is entitled to privacy, I say: "No you're not. You are 10 and my child, you are entitled to be safe because I know what's going on."

Happy Wars depicted on 
Canadian Online Gamers
If anyone she doesn't know is a child joins in the game, she leaves immediately without bothering to explain why. Helpfully gaming etiquette is minimal, since it's mainly boys who play the games Piglet plays on X Box and they are not very good at saying: "Sorry, I have to go now. It's nothing personal. I would love to stay and play but my mum says I must not stay online if I don't know everybody here face to face from school. I'm sure you are lovely really but that's what mum said." 

There are a couple of children online whom Piglet doesn't know face to face; she knows they are child friends of her friend who moved to a different part of the country. She's intelligent enough to tell when something isn't quite right now, and I rely on her to get out of the game immediately if she doesn't feel comfortable. 

I often talk to Piglet about online safety. I tone it down, but I make plain that not everyone on the internet is a good person and that Piglet should be careful whom she befriends. Bit like life, really.

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