You have the radio tuned to a commercial station, and your young daughter is bopping round the kitchen practising her dance moves. As far as she’s concerned, the song is just fun, but watching her lip-syncing “Chains and whips excite me” to Rihanna’s notorious song S&M, complete with hip wiggles she’s seen on shows such as The X Factor, is frankly disturbing. So how on earth should you react?
You don’t want to crush her enthusiasm or, indeed, explain the lyrics, though no doubt one of her savvier friends will soon oblige. Even at this stage, many of them have their own iPads, which they use to research the latest music videos on YouTube or watch their favourite film clips. Most also have phones or e-mail and Skype addresses.
So much of technology is wonderful and helps learning, but “sexting”, bullying and the spreading of obscene web content is the dark side. As well as talking gently to them about all this, to prolong their childhood, be prepared to extend your “parenthood” too.
WHAT TO SAY
Child psychologist Dr Pat Spungin has these tips…
- Talk to children as soon as they have access to the Internet, even if they’re only four or five years old.
- Start by telling them to imagine the Internet as being like a huge virtual city, which is exciting, but sometimes dangerous. Just as they don’t go to strange places or houses alone, or talk to strangers, the same rules apply to the Internet. They should “only go where they know”, and those areas should be designated by you.
- For older children, don’t be afraid to say that online porn sites are simply “wrong”. They give an unbalanced, distorted view of loving relationships, and sex should not be viewed outside of these. Time for more sophisticated arguments when they’re teenagers.
- Teach them how to say no to friends if they don’t want to watch material or SMS pictures or messages, using phrases such as “I’m not interested, it’s not my thing” or “No, I don’t feel like doing that”.
- They should ignore messages from numbers they don’t know and block numbers they don’t want. Tell them they could be risking their reputation or friendships, and let them know that anyone sending, asking for or saving obscene messages and pictures could be breaking the law.
- Encourage friendships among like-minded friends, and membership of music, drama and sports clubs that develop a talent or skill. Don’t worry about saying no to play dates or sleepovers if you’re unsure. They won’t miss out, and protecting them is more important.