I had been so sure that my son’s time on the internet was entirely taken up in blogging, playing Minecraft and making exceptionally dull YouTube videos.
But on a whim the other day, I logged on to his PC when he was at school. There’s always been the understanding that I could check what he was up to when I felt like it, only mostly I didn’t feel like it.
Until last week.
I was surprised to find that, among other things I wasn’t happy about, he had a Facebook account.
I had naively thought that we had the kind of relationship where he’d tell me about things like this and – perhaps more importantly – I thought the internet protection software would be doing its job.
The content control system had – mysteriously – been disabled, allowing him free rein over the web.
Once I’d stopped hyperventilating and reinstalled the controls, I was left wondering what to do about his Facebook account.
Should I be proud that he was good enough at maths to be able to work out what date of birth to key in to make him appear old enough? No, not really.
I considered banning him from the Internet, the computer and Facebook, but rejected the impulse. Given his obvious technological sophistication, I’d rather have him in a place I know how to keep a bit of an eye on him than forcing him to retreat somewhere out of reach.
Once I had a look at his account, I calmed down a little. He only had a very small handful of Facebook friends, all of whom I knew. The biggest topic of conversation was their teacher and what happened in school. I was also pleased to see that he had the highest level of security set – so no one he didn’t approve could see his posts.
But that included me… so the next thing I did was request to be his ‘friend’. Was that the right thing to do? Indeed how could I ever be his friend – I’m his mother?
If I insist on ‘friending’ him, there’s a possibility he’ll forget I’m there and carry on chatting to his chums as he did before? Um. How likely is that? I’m 46 and I’m still aware my mother sees what I put on Facebook.
It also suggests I condone the lies he told when setting up a Facebook page, which I don’t really.
Perhaps I need to examine my motivation. Am I just wanting to lurk on his social media to spoil his fun and let him know he’s not as clever as he thinks he is?
And if he’s determined to ‘do’ social media he might continue to employ his evident resourcefulness and set up a profile I don’t know about – moving further away from me. This prospect fills me with concern as – no matter what he encounters – he’d be reluctant to tell me what he’d done for fear of a bollocking.
There’s no reason to think that his Facebook use is going to be all that different to mine in some ways. With a bit of a caveat about talking in public – with my mother watching – I want to be free to say what I want to my friends. So will he.
That’s exactly what would leave this proposed mother-son friending open to a spectacular failure. If I can read what he posts, he can see everything I put in my Facebook status – my grown up musings intended for an adult audience. And that would never do.
Here’s another thing. My mother-friendly postings are fair enough, but much of my Facebook time is spent in secret groups or sharing private messages. Not that – honest – we’re up to anything untoward, it’s just that free and open exchanges are best among close groups of friends, even if they’re online. There’s nothing to stop my boy having these kind of private conversations to get away from the embarrassing spectre of his mother lurking on Facebook watching him.
Of course, I’m concerned about what he does, and where he goes, on the Internet. We’ve had several conversations on the subject, where he swears blind he’ll tell me what he’s up to or if he stumbles into anything that’ll make either of us unhappy. Ha! I don’t believe it.
Instead, until trust resumes (or he turns 18, whichever comes first) I’m going to keep checking what he’s been up to and at the first sniff of anything inappropriate or wrong that he didn’t tell me about, there will be sanctions. His privacy is all very well, but the stakes are higher than that.
What would you do?