Radio Gaga

After 13 interviews in a row with the BBC’s regional radio stations yesterday about my book Is Your Child Safe Online?, friends and family have been ringing to ask if they can listen again. Having played back the five that were live, and feeling very much like my own worst enemy, I’m not sure they should listen to any but in the interests of publicity here goes.

What I would say is that being on the interviewee side of the microphone is pretty daunting! And I probably need to learn some politician type tactics if there is a next time.

Doing the pre-records was certainly easier as you get a brief chat with the presenter before and they tell you they’ll edit out any pregnant pauses – or in my case ums, aahs and cyber-babble. So far, I’ve only managed to find one of these interviews which was with Martin Ballard in Leicester. Here I got to make an important point: that the internet is a hugely positive educational resource and used creatively and productively, rather than passively, it can give our children a real advantage in a competitive job market. Parents, of course, have a really important role to play in helping them on this road.  I have no recollection of what I said in Wiltshire, which was the last pre-recorded interview, but the presenter Mark O’Donnell appeared to have read the book and kindly pointed out that it wasn’t sensationalist. After the interview, he said I should be proud of myself – not something I am very good at but after two-and-a-half hours of questioning, it was good to hear. Thanks Mark!

The first live interview was with Emma Britton, a presenter with BBC Somerset, and it was a shaky start! Like many of the presenters I spoke to, she focused on the statistic that one in five children aged 5-7 access the internet unsupervised. The point – rather confusingly put – was that parents should certainly be taking an active interest in what their young children are doing online, understanding what they games they are playing and putting in place age-appropriate tools to protect them. Of course, all this information is available in my book. One thing I would like to clarify is that while it may take a “fair few clicks” to access inappropriate content, as Emma pointed out, it is really not that difficult. Only yesterday a Mum in the playground was telling me that she had left her five-year-old her son singing along to a song on YouTube. Just minutes later he had clicked on a link which was pelting out the ‘dirty’ lyrics version.  With all the talk in about the commercialisation and sexualistion childhood in the media, this is the last thing we need. And we don’t want young children watching pornography either.

Next up was Tony Fisher at BBC Hereford & Worcester, who was chatty and friendly. But then he threw the first curveball: So Pamela what exactly are Facebook’s rules for under-18s? Of course, I know the answer (it is in the book) but it is not straightforward to explain and I wasn’t expecting such a specific question. Still a good lesson!  He pointed out that if the researcher didn’t know off the top of her head, how were parents supposed to know. Thanks Tony! Anyway it was a valid point and although Facebook has recently ‘improved’ privacy settings to give the user more control, understanding exactly what these are takes time and energy – all things parents are a bit short of.

BBC Tees live with Mike Parr  was at 10.40 and was introduced with a clip of a mum who earlier this year told the radio station the very tragic story of how her daughter had been groomed by a paedophile online and later sexually assaulted. My heart sank; this would be the hardest thing to talk about. The girl’s age wasn’t mentioned but I wanted to make the distinction between a paedophile (who is interested pre-pubescent children) and a sexual predator who may groom older children. This is a very complicated and complex subject but professionals agree that children at risk from paedophiles will very often be at risk in the real world. Sexual predators, who may target older children online, are cause for greater concern particularly when it comes to vulnerable children who may have self-esteem issues. So it is important for parents to talk to their children about what is appropriate to post on social networking sites. For example, putting up scantily clad images of themselves, taking risks live in web-cam based chat rooms or even lying about their age (and appearing older than they are) is not a good idea. Such risk-taking behaviour is something CEOP, the UK Child Exploitation Online Protection agency, warns against. Why? Because, for example, criminals use video capture to record images in chat rooms which can later be easily distributed to various porn networks interested in such material.

Could it get any worse? On to BBC Manchester with Heather Stott which I babbled my way through and then to BBC Scotland, a place I have a strong connection with as we have spent several months there over the years as a result of my husband’s work.  We got onto the topic of cyber-bullying, or cyber-aggression, something I feel quite passionate about. There is only so much you can say in about 8 minutes. But I really wanted to stress how important it is that parents talk to their children about how to be kind online and how a false rumour, a doctored image or even a mean sentence can have profound and lasting impact on another young person’s life.

In Jersey with Carrie and Sara  I felt I might be talking to friends. They obviously had an earlier cover version – there have been several versions – and addiction is not on the final version, which you can see here. Still it was good to touch on addiction, or what is probably more a case of excessive use, as this is something I still think we don’t know enough about.

What I didn’t get to in any of the talks was another hobbyhorse – our throwaway, consumer society and the commercial pressure put on children to own every latest device. Not only is this tough on parents’ pockets – some of whom are choosing to put this need before a family holiday – it is not great for the environment either. And recent Unicef research has found that many UK children really fear appearing poor so the pressure to have the latest thing is huge.

There are so many risks, challenges and opportunities surrounding our children’s use of the internet and if nothing else I hope these first interviews, and of course my book, will help parents understand these better.

For a print journalist, all so much easier said in print.

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