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To ensure happy endings…keep your family safe online

Last year I ticked off a parental milestone when I had “the chat” with my daughter.

We covered periods, sex, contraception, love and respect. A lot for a ten-year old to take in. But I wanted to start the conversation so she’d know she could pick it up again with me any time. I wasn’t anxious because I knew what I was talking about. Where I do feel outside my comfort zone is talking about  permissions and viruses (strangely enough words that wouldn’t have been out-of-place in my earlier talk ) and navigating the virtual world. When I was a child the closest I got to securing my personal information was protecting my diary with a curse. My sisters knew that if they so much as had a peep – ill would befall them. It kept them out. Simple solutions for simpler times.

So when we were invited to partake in Fairytales in the 21st century- an event during hosted by Norton (the internet/anti-virus company with the focus on helping families to stay safe online I accepted on the spot. .

It would all be happening at the House of Illustration in Kings Cross.  On embarking at the station on a beautiful crisp Spring morning, we followed the labyrinth of billboards with Quentin Blake drawings directing us to our venue. King’s Cross was looking smart. The house is next to Central Saint Martins, the college for art and design. and the kids were mesmerised by the fashionistas filing in and out of the college. They were especially taken with hair colour – they spotted every hue.

We walked in to a haze of magic bubbles – the ones that don’t burst and easily stack. An entertainer read fairy tales retold in a modern context. The wolf huffed and he puffed and he hacked in to the pigs devices. It was lovely to see kids being kids. They dressed up in costumes (no assuming aliases). They made friends, engaging in the type of social interaction that’s stood us for centuries but is often usurped by screen-time, aliases and virtual friendships.IMG_0581

We got the chance to talk to the experts as people from Norton and Get safe online mingled with the attending parents. We spoke about passwords and the need to change them often. They suggested a password vault to store my passwords as I struggle to recall combinations from my expanding repertoire.

Remembering my need for privacy as a child (the diary curse) I sought their guidance on the issue around having access to our children’s emails. I’m not convinced its the right thing to do. They agree. The important thin, at this early stage with children, is to discuss the vices and virtues of online  presence. Tell them what to look our for, equip them with the knowledge to make the right decisions for themselves. It’s so much more empowering and fits in with my personal philosophy. Tony from Get Safe Online suggested I sit down and agree a contract with my child that is mutually beneficial. We expect to sign a contract for our phones etc. Why shouldn’t they. Given my background in creative writing for children I know I could turn this into a fun yet effective exercise for my daughter to do. She’s excited about drawing up her own contract. I’ll post it here. Tony said to send him a copy and I will – he might post it on his site too. Online etiquette will refer to time spent on and off line.

Just before our tea party the children were given a big rectangular biscuit – a tablet to decorate with icing pens. Some made gallant attempts, others couldn’t resist a nibble.

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There were so many other treats to entice.  The table heaved under the weight of  sumptuous  gateaux and cupcakes . There were  salads, Quiche and sandwiches too. We were set up for the day.

The kids got gift bags with balls and frisbees and pens and torches – paraphernalia to entice them outside and away from their devices methinks! I got a cream moleskine notepad.

My two had befriended the children of a fellow blogger.  We let them have a quick wander through the illustrations while we were at the house.  They even did a little drawing. Then it was outside to play with the contents of the goodie bag. Our new friends had a football with them so the boys enjoyed a kick-around, the girls played among the dancing fountains in the expansive courtyard while the mothers chatted.

On our way in I’d spotted a barge on t Regent’s canal that begged further exploration. Words on Water.  A boat full of books. We didn’t hop aboard. Four children #bullinchinashop. It would wait for another day out that didn’t involve sugared up children and wet feet (from fountain dodging).

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We said goodbye to our new friends.  The day was still young(ish) and we had a travel card.  What a better way to finish off our excursion than with a trip to the British Museum. After a morning of talking about the future, it felt right to pop in on the past.

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Days later my daughter and I visited Norton and staysafe online. We talked about kindness, respect and other friendship values and the need to extend them online. We read up on digital footprints and cyper bullying. We both learnt new things. I was impressed with the lexicon that goes with the emerging technology. Shoulder surfing (people watching you screen over your shoulder), click jacking (enticing you to click on a link), sexting and cyperbullying.

Thank you Norton for a great day out and a lot more besides. Coming soon….the contract!

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