Holding back technology tide that threatens children
I had a long and, at times, rather baffling conversation with Luke, 11, the other day. It was all about the row over women appearing on bank notes. We both agreed that it was a good thing that Jane Austen will be on the new £10 note. But then things got weirder.
"I LOVE her!" said Luke, with surprising enthusiasm. "But will she be as herself – or as Rachel?"
"Eh?" I asked, confusedly.
"Will. She. Be. As. Herself? Or. As. Rachel?" he replied, as if speaking to a very stupid person. "What?" (doing my best impression of a stupid person).
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"Mu-um! Will she be pictured as HERSELF? Or as RACHEL? Duh!"
And so it went on, until we eventually established that it is Jane Austen, the 19th-century novelist, who will be pictured on the new Bank of England note. Not the comic actress Jennifer Aniston, aka Rachel Green from Friends.
Mind you, it's hardly surprising that Luke thought Jen was a shoo-in as the face of the British tenner. Friends has been on our TV screen in a steadily constant loop ever since he was a baby. From the early days of Rachel with the curly hair, through Ross dressing up as an armadillo and Monica getting together with Chandler, when in doubt, as a family we watch Friends.
It's funny, harmless and feel-good, which is certainly more than you can say for EastEnders. We gave up watching that with our older kids when Janine developed a cocaine habit, then took to prostitution to pay for it. John and I exchanged glances across the sofa and decided there and then to give our home-grown soap opera a miss in future.
Fortunately, however, the rest of the furore over the bank note debate seems to have passed Luke by. I mean the bit about the women who campaigned to have a female on our banknotes being threatened in vile ways over Twitter. Presumably by various sad and bitter blokes tapping away on computers with the curtains drawn.
This sort of story worries me, because Luke is a would-be geek, badgering hard for all sorts of online gadgets. He wants a smartphone, he wants his own laptop. Even his new Nintendo DS, bought out of saved-up pocket money, turned out to have wifi (WHY?). Which I think (I hope) I have managed to disable.
As a parent, the whole issue of bullying, vile threats and general nastiness on the internet terrifies the life out of me. Luke's ten years younger than his nearest sibling and computerised communication has changed beyond recognition in that decade. I don't know how to stop my precious child seeing and reading horrible things in cyberspace. If anyone can advise me on what to do for the best, I'd be grateful to hear it.
In the meantime, my husband John and I are doing everything we can to make Luke's online world as inaccessible as possible. We've got just the one computer at home, which downloads at the speed of an elderly tortoise ambling over to inspect a not-very-fresh lettuce leaf. "Please can we get a new one?" the children beg. "Yes, yes, I'm just saving up," say I, fobbing them off. I'm hoping that David Cameron will come good soon with his promise to block grim stuff from streaming into our children's lives. I don't even want them watching EastEnders, for heaven's sake, let alone anything X-rated – or worse.
Yes, I know it is like trying to stop the tide coming in and kids are curious. But call me King Canute, I am giving it my best shot. Admittedly, Luke has, finally, just got a new phone – I gave in as he is about to start secondary school. But I went into the shop and demanded one that could only make phone calls and texts. No films, music, Facebook, Twitter, nothing, thanks very much. It cost a rather marvellous £7.95 and, after the initial twinge of disappointment at its blocky, uncool appearance, Luke has taken it to his heart. "It's actually waterproof! And it's got a cricket game on it," he said delightedly.
I'm hoping the phone will help him avoid the same fate that John encountered, on his first trip home to the farm from "Big School". Along came the bus but it was full and did not stop. The driver gestured over his shoulder at the bus behind, which had a large sign across the windscreen saying: Duplicate.
"But we didn't want to go to Duplicate, so we didn't get on," remembers John. Of course, his parents came to the rescue. Some things don't change – and that's what we are here for, after all.