Nobody, ever, has said that parenting is easy but the thunderstorms of doom and confusion that swirl around the issue of children and internet use is making it all the more difficult for millions of already mentally frazzled mums and dads.
For the past fortnight or so we have been bombarded with a seemingly endless succession of headlines about the perils of young social media obsessives, mainly teenagers, who have been pushed to the brink and beyond.
Instagram, the social media platform of choice for Kardashians, Z-list wannabes and people who want to use a fancy filter to make their steak and kidney pie dinner look more appetising, has been very much in the firing line. We have, sadly, now all heard about Molly Russell, the 14-year-old, whose father believes that her tragic death in November 2017 was partly down to the fact that she viewed graphic content relating to self harm, suicide and anxiety.
Ian Russell’s relentlessly high profile pursuit for answers as to why his outwardly happy daughter would find herself in such a dark place has caused genuine shockwaves within an industry which has previously appeared almost impervious to impassioned pleas. Following the media pressure, coupled with Government intervention, Instagram has taken steps to remove negative content, such as that showing poor souls self harming.
The fact is, it shouldn’t have taken the zeal of a grieving dad for a social media platform to take the steps that charities and campaign groups have been asking them to take for many years.
During the unforgiving flurry of stories that have appeared in print, online and on the airwaves, parents like this one have had little choice but to sit up and take notice of the fierce debate.
Put simply, it is terrifying because this generation of parents are pioneers but are woefully unprepared for the challenges that laptops, tablets and smartphones bring, due to our own dire lack of experience in the matter. Both of my children love gadgets and they are allowed to watch age appropriate drivel on sites such as YouTube, but they do it within the reach of at least one parent.
My nine-year-old is absolutely desperate for her very own phone and, thus far, we have been resolute in our resistance to this, with vague ‘promises’ that she might get one for her next birthday, if she behaves herself.
Is 10 too young for a child, who doesn’t really go anywhere unless she is in the company of an adult, to have a phone? It seems to make some sense for youngsters to have a bog standard mobile, especially as 10 and 11 year olds are taking the first tentative steps towards independence but then there is a debate about whether pre-teens should be given a smartphone. I have heard experts say that children should not be given unsupervised access to the internet until they are at least 14, while my peers share widely differing views.
I have met children who have had their own Instagram account since the age of 11, despite the fact the age minimum limit is 13.
Pester power and juvenile obfuscation are winning the day in many a household across the UK, because many parents simply haven’t got a clue about how to deal with this growing menace.