Welcome to The Educating Parent Beverley Paine's archive of articles about homeschooling and unschooling written over a period of 30 plus years

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A Heartbreaking Story about Unsupervised Internet Use

This article, written by a dear friend, highlights how easy it is for even the most dedicated and attentive parent to experience the pain and anguish of discovering her child has been the victim of sexual abuse. Please read her tips at the end of the article for helping to keep your family safe from online predators.

I am writing this because t he home educating community need to know about the dangers of unsafe internet use and the damage it can cause. My daughter has been robbed of her innocence and it breaks my heart. We were diligent with supervision for years but as she grew older we let that slip: too easy to do, impossible to repair the damage.

Several months ago my 13 year old daughter wrote us a letter saying that she thought she was addicted to porn and that she'd had an online romance with an older boy who was her first love, and that she had posted nude photos of herself to him and on other sites.

We are devastated that this could happen to our beautiful girl and believe that she had been 'groomed' and introduced to concepts that are extremely inappropriate for a girl of her age. We believe this person is most likely an older man who lied about his age. He has achieved exactly what he wanted by isolating her from family and friends and taught her about the seedy world of pornography while pretending to have feelings for her.

It started not long after she turned 12. We have always had a computer in a central area of the house for the general use of family members. This cautionary approach was complemented with regular in-depth family discussions about appropriate online behaviour. Our older children had recently begun tertiary studies and were using their own laptops in their rooms, which meant it was just our youngest child and myself using the common computer. As it was showing its age we purchased a laptop for me to use and our daughter continued to use the household one.

The change in family dynamics, with the older children spending more time away from the home, meant our youngest had more time to herself. It wasn't long before, realising my laptop was quicker than the family one and preferring to use it, she would sometimes ask if she could take it to her room. I often agreed, though I protested that doing so wasn't a good practice.

She started to insist that she didn't want to spend time with the rest of the family, join in with activities when we went out, preferring to stay at home. She stopped initiating friendships. I put this down to her entering puberty and becoming more aware of interpersonal relationships. With a busy family life, I found allowing her to take the computer to her room less stressful than arguing with her to stay in the common area. Sometimes I'd remind her that her older siblings did not have smart-phones or exclusive use of a computer when they were her age, and encouraged her to maintain a high standard in her online use.

Also, at about this time, I updated my smart phone and handed down my old one to her. This gave her Wi-Fi access from anywhere in the home as well as use of the built-in digital camera.

In the letter she told us that she posted a risqué photo of herself online to see how many 'likes' she could get. An 'older boy' initiated a conversation with her which led to a friendship and an on-and-off-again relationship lasting about a year. He would spend time with her online and she would break it off because he pushed too much or behaved badly towards her. But after a while they'd make contact again and the grooming would resume. Over this time she stopped reading books, and seemed listless and bored. I'd go into her room late at night and she was on her smart-phone rather than sleeping.

There had been a final split when she told him she simply wanted to be online friends. He was very upset with her and sent her offensive photos of himself with another person. After a a couple of months she attempted to contact him again but he did not respond. We were still unaware of the situation: we could see her hurting and acting out but couldn't get to the bottom of it. Several weeks later we enforced a 24 internet 'fast' because we felt that she was spending every spare moment online and her attitude toward us was at an all time low.

It was a really difficult 24 hours but we knew things could not go back to how they were. We decided to continue the internet 'fast' and it was after two days that she gave us the letter. I think she was so bored and desperate that she innocently felt confessing would mean all her privileges would be restored.

Since reading the letter we have been grieving the loss of our daughter's innocence and dealing with our own guilt at allowing such a thing to happen. Both my daughter and I have been receiving counselling which has helped to work through the situation and somewhat ease the pain.

I resolved to write our story in the hope that other parents can learn from our experience and realise how important it is to protect our children and teens from online predators. I've been able to sift through hundreds of uploaded photos on the site my daughter used and am amazed at how many young girls and women post nude and semi-nude photos of themselves in their bedrooms or bathrooms. No parent needs to see this.

We have a very happy home life but have made a serious mistake by not ensuring our child was safe online.

Here are my tips on how a parent can protect their children and teens from online grooming:

  • Think about how you, as an adult, will respond to internet security before something happens that could have serious effects for your children and life.
  • Learn and understand about how online grooming and bullying takes place: http://www.thinkuknow.org.au/site/grooming.asp.
  • Maintain an honest and open relationship with your child and make sure you really listen to them.
  • Keep up-to-date regarding government guidelines and standards for children and online activity: For adults http://www.thinkuknow.org.au/site/ , and for children, http://www.thinkuknow.org.au/kids/.
  • Make sure your children know that nothing online is ever private, even if it says it is.
  • Don't confuse online activity with your child's right to privacy: make sure his or her private thoughts and diary are not stored or put online. Educate your children about the nature of and need for privacy and how unwise use of the internet can impact them for the rest of their lives. A private off-line diary is an excellent way for a child to express themselves and work through their thoughts.
  • Have a plan for how to use information technology safely and regularly review it together: establish a 'Family Technology Charter'. Make sure everyone is aware of and knows and understands what is acceptable and appropriate behaviour.
  • For tips for online gaming visit http://www.thinkuknow.org.au/site/parentalcontrol.asp.
  • If you see your child change their habits or personality, investigate beyond the superficial reasons, just to be sure. Don't wait, act on your first instincts when something isn't quite right.

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Beverley Paine with her children, and their home educated children, relaxing at home.

Together with the support of my family, my aim is to help parents educate their children in stress-free, nurturing environments. In addition to building and maintaing this website, I continue to create and manage local and national home educating networks, help to organise conferences and camps, as well as write for, edit and produce newsletters, resource directories and magazines. I am an active supporter of national, state, regional and local home education groups.

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Welcome to the World of Home Education
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We began educating our children in 1985, when our eldest was five. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn since they were born. I am a passionate advocate of allowing children to learn unhindered by unnecessary stress and competition, meeting developmental needs in ways that suit their individual learning styles and preferences. Ours was a homeschooling, unschooling and natural learning family! There are hundreds of articles on this site to help you build confidence as a home educating family. We hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was! Beverley Paine


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