Belfast Telegraph

As much as it kills me, I'll have to tell my girl about the evil lurking online

By Jane Graham

Do you remember what age you were when you realised the adult world was nastier than you thought? I was scared of monsters and Daleks longer than most kids today, but I also believed in Santa, angels and the tooth fairy. And for a long time I was certain there was a moral balance in the universe which meant the good guys always won. So if I was nice, I'd be protected from evil.

When I had my first baby, I was determined that as long as she was in primary school she'd have a notion of the world which, once firmly ensconced, would never be entirely shaken out of her.

A world famous actor once told me, no matter what plaudits he got (and he had two Oscars), he would never stop feeling like the awkward homely looking kid he'd been in his early years. "The first 10 years of your life, you can't erase them," he said.

And he knew life.

So I decided I would make the first 10 years of my children's lives rich with wonder, curiosity, confidence and faith in the basic goodness of the world. That way, even when they found out I hadn't been entirely honest, they'd already have a base setting which would see them through the most dispiriting times.

I have struggled. An older cousin who set up a video camera in his living room to 'expose' Santa on Christmas Eve posed a threat. Smart ass siblings of school friends stuck their oars in. TV channels and movies were scoured for spoilers before they went on the Approved pile. Women's mags were hidden on high shelves. MTV was unplugged. Radio phone-ins were silenced. Bullies were characterised as tragic losers, guaranteed a future of unhappiness and regret. (I got right into karma). Books and films espousing a world of magic which teenagers and adults just didn't get, but smart kids understood, were prioritised (see ET, Elf, The BFG).

But my biggest enemy has been the internet. I've kept them away from Facebook (and describe it so scathingly I'm hoping even if they do join one day, they'll never trust it).

They're still far too young for Twitter. But this week's story about Hannah Smith, the 16-year-old who hung herself after a barrage of grotesque abuse on social network site Ask.fm has convinced me that, as much as it kills me, I'm going to have to tell my daughter about the worst kind of people who prowl even the most ostensibly innocuous sites.

The bad guys have beaten me; she's only 10. But the truth is, we can't protect our kids from these dangers and threats. We have to arm them with information and self-defence systems.

I approve of David Cameron's recent pledge to filter internet porn. But I worry about his headline-grabbing claim that he'll provide a way to protect children "with one click". When I bought an iPad recently I sat for half an hour with a shop assistant learning how to censor every setting on there. It wasn't one click, it was more than 30. And I have to review it every week, as well as continuing with the disenchantment of my children.

The inconvenient truth is that, unless they ban all computers from the home, every parent is going to have to commit to the same regular drudgery if they want their kids to be safe. Even if it means taking a bit of lustre out of the universe along the way.

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