Par­ent­ing in the dig­i­tal age

How do you help chil­dren un­der pres­sure from so­cial me­dia?

EADT Suffolk - - Inside -

NEVER had Katie Law­son’s three chil­dren seemed more vul­ner­a­ble, in her eyes, than dur­ing her nine-year-old niece’s bat­tle with pre­pubescent anorexia. The eat­ing dis­or­der had come from nowhere, with no ob­vi­ous cause and no one to blame.

At the time, Katie’s pri­or­ity was sup­port­ing her sis­ter and niece. There was much to learn and many more ques­tions than answers. But con­cerns for her own chil­dren were never far from her mind. With one in ten five to 16 year olds now suffering from a men­tal health dis­or­der, Katie felt an over­whelm­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity to bet­ter un­der­stand the pres­sures mod­ern chil­dren face. Time, how­ever, was not some­thing this mother-ofthree had in spades. She had re­cently moved her fam­ily from Lon­don and was ren­o­vat­ing their new home in East Bergholt. She was set­tling her chil­dren into a new school and vol­un­teer­ing at Gorse­land Pri­mary School in Martle­sham Heath.

“I didn’t want to read ten books”, Katie re­calls, yet she couldn’t be sure that what she was read­ing on­line was ac­cu­rate. “I wanted lit­tle bits of ex­pert ad­vice that I could trust.” Thirty miles north, in Saxtead, an­other Suf­folk mother was on the hunt for prac­ti­cal par­ent­ing ad­vice. Alarmed by the pres­sure her daugh­ter was al­ready fac­ing at school, aged just seven, Lucy Flack at­tended a con­fer­ence on the prac­tice of mind­ful­ness in the class­room. It flicked a switch. She came out “to­tally in­spired”.

But the con­fer­ence had been for teach­ers, not par­ents, which con­cerned Lucy. She felt par­ents needed to be part of the conversation and, tak­ing mat­ters into her own hands, she or­gan­ised a sim­i­lar event at Framlingham Col­lege, this time, specif­i­cally for par­ents. It was an over­whelm­ing suc­cess. Three hun­dred par­ents and grand­par­ents came, with hun­dreds more on the wait­ing list. One of those in the au­di­ence was Katie Law­son.

Katie loved the talk. The for­mat struck a chord, two speak­ers and a hearty chunk of com­pre­hen­sive prac­ti­cal ad­vice on help­ing chil­dren to cope with the pres­sures of mod­ern life. It was just the ac­ces­si­ble, ex­pert-led ex­pe­ri­ence she had been look­ing for. With 20 years in sports mar­ket­ing and events man­age­ment be­hind her, Katie started en­ter­tain­ing thoughts of or­gan­is­ing a se­ries of par­ent talks in a sim­i­lar vein. Lucy shared her vi­sion.

“I couldn’t drop it there. The buzz and en­ergy and hype were too much to ig­nore.” The two women put their heads to­gether and a new par­ent­ing ini­tia­tive, to be known as Huddl, was born.

Power of the preda­tor

“If I had heard the talk I’m go­ing to give, Breck would still be here to­day. I’m sure of it.” Th­ese are the words of Lorin Le­fave. Her 14-year-old son, Breck, was groomed over the in­ter­net and mur­dered in 2014.

Lorin is one of three ex­pert speak­ers ad­dress­ing Huddl’s in­au­gu­ral par­ent talk on Septem­ber 14 at Trin­ity Park in Ip­swich, which will be fo­cus­ing on so­cial me­dia and in­ter­net safety. It won’t be an easy lis­ten at times, but Lorin makes no ex­cuses for that.

“What went wrong for me and Breck is none of us had been ed­u­cated about what to do when you recog­nise the signs of groom­ing.” Lorin and her hus­band sus­pected their son’s in­volve­ment in an on­line gam­ing group was not all that it seemed. They warned Breck that the so-called ring­mas­ter might not be the 17-year-old com­puter en­gi­neer he claimed to be. Lorin for­bade Breck from com­mu­ni­cat­ing with the man. She even re­ported her con­cerns to the po­lice. Yet the worst still hap­pened.

Since Breck’s death Lorin has tried to talk to as many dif­fer­ent au­di­ences as pos­si­ble. She be­lieves that, de­spite her ef­forts, there was more she could have done to pro­tect her son. Look­ing back, she says she didn’t un­der­stand the power of the preda­tor. She wishes she had had ac­cess to CEOP, the Child Ex­ploita­tion and On­line Pro­tec­tion Cen­tre, a re­source she’ll be pro­mot­ing re­peat­edly dur­ing her talk. She’s wor­ried par­ents are blasé about what their chil­dren are do­ing on their mo­bile phones.

“They take com­fort, un­wisely,” she says, “in the knowl­edge that all chil­dren are on­line all the time, ev­ery­body’s do­ing it.” This is a con­cern shared by the sec­ond speaker,

Dr Emma Bond. “Peo­ple aren’t talking about par­ent­ing in the dig­i­tal age in sen­si­ble prag­matic ways. As­sum­ing the horse has bolted and we’ve just got to put up with it isn’t good enough.”

Dr Bond is a pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Suf­folk, and author of Child­hood Mo­bile Tech­nolo­gies and Ev­ery­day Ex­pe­ri­ences.

“If you live near a fast road,” she says, “you teach your child to cross it safely. If you live near a river, you teach them to swim.” If par­ents aren’t talking to their chil­dren about their life on­line, aren’t tak­ing time out to play games with them or learn about the lat­est app or chatroom, Dr Bond says they will be in no po­si­tion to help, if and when their child finds them­selves in dan­ger of be­ing bul­lied, groomed or trolled.

Ac­cord­ing to Jonathan Tay­lor, the third and fi­nal speaker at the Huddl event, who spent ten years in the Metropoli­tan Po­lice in­ves­ti­gat­ing on­line groom­ing, chil­dren are most likely to post an im­age or video of them­selves on­line, or set up a fake pro­file for the first time, at the age of 11.

“Or try Twit­ter and mes­sage a stranger at 12, and try ser­vices like SnapChat and be­fore the age of 13.” Risk-tak­ing be­hav­iour is in­evitable, but there are prac­ti­cal things par­ents can do to pro­tect their child and Jonathan Tay­lor will be of­fer­ing a tool­box of op­tions.

Schools have been putting on e-safety talks for some time now, but they are of­ten poorly at­tended. Th­ese Huddl par­ent talks are a new ap­proach. They’re putting ex­pert speak­ers in front of an au­di­ence of par­ents who have paid £15 pounds to be there, who have ac­tively cho­sen to spend their even­ing learn­ing and in­vest­ing in their child’s fu­ture.

“If one par­ent goes home and passes on the in­for­ma­tion, so that their child thinks be­fore they click, then it will be worth it,” says Dr Bond. Katie and Lucy have two fur­ther Huddl talks planned in Suf­folk. The first, in Oc­to­ber, will ex­am­ine the chang­ing teenage brain. The next, in Novem­ber, will ex­plore ways of help­ing chil­dren de­velop grit and re­silience. Af­ter that, the aim is to take the Huddl road­show to Nor­folk and Cam­bridge, and with strong sup­port from spon­sors such as the East Anglian Daily Times, David Lloyd Clubs, Wood­bridge School and Go Train­ing and Events, the hope is then to start or­gan­is­ing talks na­tion­wide.

When th­ese two Suf­folk mums were coming up with a name for their busi­ness they took in­spi­ra­tion from the be­hav­iour of em­peror pen­guins in the Antarc­tic. In the depths of winter, pen­guins hud­dle around their young to keep them warm, con­stantly chang­ing po­si­tion so that those on the out­side get a chance to move in­wards and take refuge from the el­e­ments. The aim is to en­sure no par­ent is left out in the cold.

Katie and Lucy will en­deav­our to achieve no less as their par­ent­ing ini­tia­tive gets un­der­way in earnest this month.

Let the Huddl be­gin!

Katie Law­son and Lucy Flack are launch­ing a new par­ent­ing or­gan­i­sa­tion called Huddl

Or­gan­is­ers and speak­ers at the mind­ful­ness and wel­bing con­fer­ence at Framlingham Col­lege, l-r, Lucy Flack, Claire Kelly, Hazel Har­ri­son and Tom Cas­ton, deputy head at the col­lege

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