Keeping our kids safe is not a small task  

When my eldest daughter was just five years old, and in year one at school, we discovered that she was being bullied by two boys in her class. It was a horrible time, and stirred up many emotions from when the dreaded B word ruled my own life.

I moved around a lot when I was a kid, and by the time I left home I’d had over a dozen addresses. I feel this made me an easy target for bullies, and towards the end of my school career, I had suffered horrendously because of them. My confidence was non-existent and I was suicidal. At my very lowest ebb, I took an overdose of painkillers. It was a classic cry for help, but fate took a different turn. Shortly afterwards, an incident with my stepfather was to be the catalyst for me emerging into adulthood at 15.

I had it rough, there is no denying it, but I grew up in a different era. I didn’t even get my first mobile phone until I was sixteen. The school yard bullies only had a small window of opportunity to do their thing. 

The reality of growing up in a digital age

keep kids safe My husband and I home educate our children, and we limit screen time to a couple of hours a day. It’s easy to keep the kids safe when they’re small and just watching television, but it gets trickier as they get older, and especially once they have their own devices and want to go online. Polly’s had a tablet for almost a year now, and she plays basic games and has kids apps on it, but we haven’t yet enabled the browser. 

She does go online on my laptop though, mostly to look for recipe videos or TV shows on YouTube. At eight she is very vulnerable, not to mention naive. Just last week she called me upstairs to tell me that she had won an iPhone. I have no idea what she clicked on to get to that screen, and fortunately I managed to intercept the computer before she started clicking on the download, otherwise who knows what would have happened.

It ended up being a good opportunity to have a chat about how sometimes things on the internet are not what they seem. She was really confused, and just didn’t understand why something would pop up on the screen telling her lies. It’s made me realise that she needs a super careful eye watched over her, because you never know what’s lurking beyond those clicks.

How to keep our kids safe online

I used to hope that by the time my children wanted to go online independently it wouldn’t feel as scary for me. To be honest though, it feels scarier now than ever before. Between social media, gaming, and endless apps being released, there are numerous ways for predators to access our kids. So far I’ve managed to dodge the apps with online ‘friends’ bullet, but I know we won’t be able to indefinitely. It’s an absolute minefield, which is why I’ve installed adaptive security on all our devices.

Kaspersky Security Cloud is a great example of this type of software. It defends your devices from viruses, Trojans, worms and phishing, among other things. Using cloud-based technologies, their security is faster, which means it doesn’t add strain and extra loading times, or take up valuable space. It also has a built-in Security Adviser, which behaves like your personal security expert and automatically warns you about new and relevant threats. It will lock out identity thieves when connecting to a public network, and help to ensure data and messages aren’t falling into the wrong hands.

The biggest music to my ears is that it protects the entire family, as Kaspersky constantly seeks new ways to protect children when they are exploring the world online. Parents and guardians can enable specific security features to keep an eye on their children via their own mobiles and computers. There is advice for parents built into the app to help them help their children learn and understand why some content isn’t appropriate. It also warns the parents if a child tries to disable the app.

Online before their time?

keeping kids safeAccording to the latest Net Aware survey, a whopping two thirds of children admitted to using apps while under the age limit. Most social media sites have a minimum age of 13, but a lot of children have accounts from nine or ten. My personal stance on this is that the age limits protect our kids, and should be adhered to. Perhaps it’s because social media is such a huge part of my own work, but knowing what I do, I’ll put off allowing accounts for as long as possible.

Ultimately, the best way to keep our kids safe when they go online, is for them to fully understand the potential dangers of doing so. That’s not to say that we should be scaring them senseless with tales of the bogeyman, but they should be wise enough to know not to accept friend requests from people who aren’t their friends.

Some people ask their children for passwords to their social media accounts, or have a rule that they have to be friends with them. Honestly though, I don’t think this is enough. I’ve heard too many stories whereby the child has a dummy account with a handful of actual friends, and their parents, then sets up a second account with hundreds of randoms they might or might not know.

There is much for my husband and I to consider to ensure that we stay one step ahead of the game

Although we have a couple more years to fine tune our strategy, safety awareness will definitely be high up on the agenda. 

We’ll be encouraging them to be completely open and honest about their online usage. As nice an idea as it might seem to give them full control and trust their decision making, I think in reality, they will need our guidance until they are well into their teen years.

Meanwhile we’ll continue doing our very best to ensure that we equip them with the resources they need to cope with this crazy world.

A place that can feel so cruel and unjust at times.

**Disclaimer: this is a collaborative piece, for my full disclosure policy please click here.**  

Bankrolled by My Husband or Working as a Team? I read a really thought provoking article the other day, written by a writer who openly states that she’s being bankrolled by her husband.

Ten years ago it was very different story while she worked multiple jobs, whilst married to an addict, and raising three kids. Back then she got precisely zero writing done. Nowadays she’s married to a wealthy man who adores her, and supports her in every way. She writes full time and banged out her last novel in an impressive eight months. She sounds like a true survivor and I was rooting for her throughout the piece.

There are obvious similarities between her situation and mine

I worked full time from the day I left home at fifteen. First came the truly awful jobs (which fortunately got better) and in the early days I often worked in the evening too. Fast forward many years and although money was super tight, I went down to two days after my first maternity leave. I knew from the outset that time with my eldest was more important than money. I worked there for five happy years and took voluntary redundancy eighteen months ago. 

On paper I’m now being bankrolled by my husband, but I don’t view this negatively. It’s hardly like I’m swanning around having long boozy lunches every day. I’m raising our three children, and home educating our autistic daughter. This is no small thing, and I’m astonished that I manage to write anything most days.

On the evenings that hubby is out training, once the kids are asleep, I’m usually good for nothing. Knowing that I’ll be woken up multiple times throughout the night, I’ve taken to going to bed shortly after they do. In an attempt to maximise my writing efforts, I’m using that teeny tiny window to read a book that will help me be a better writer. My hope is that I’ll get a big chunk of the rewrite done for my novel on our holiday in May.

My own money

I earn a very modest amount of money through blogging, and although I could put myself out there more and take on extra work, I don’t want to. I like that I’m not attached to social media 24/7 chasing potential opportunities, and that I can fully switch off from blog land. I came to the conclusion over a year ago that I wouldn’t be able to successfully home educate and write prolifically. 

I’ve had plenty of time to make my peace with that.

So I don’t beat myself up over it. I’m in the very fortunate position, for the first time ever, for someone else to take care of the finances.

I’m not ashamed to admit that I like it

The additional pressure to earn more on top of all the other pressures I’m under would surely tip me over the edge. Hats off to anyone who is winning whilst doing everything work wise and everything kid wise. (If anyone reading now is in this position high five!) Raising children, and home educating, is bloody hard going. It’s all-consuming and life affirming at once. It will destroy your mental health if you’re not in a good place, and make you realise how strong you are during happier days.

The way I see it is that it’s a team effort. Just so happens to be my husband who is working full time and earning the roof-over-our-heads-food-in-our-bellies money. For the moment at least. I have absolutely no qualms with being bankrolled by him at this stage in our lives. We both have equally tough jobs, and we both respect what the other is doing.

Maybe one day when the children are older I’ll get some proper writing done, and become a bestselling author. Then he can take a break from the work place, and we can swap roles.

After all, none of us has a crystal ball. Who knows what the future holds?

does your child think rape is funny?I read a deeply disturbing article today. About the rape of a 15yo girl being broadcast via Facebook Live. If that wasn’t bad enough, she is now being harassed online, and told she’ll be got at again. Unsurprisingly she is too terrified to go home, and is staying with relatives.

The thing I find most troubling is that the kids watching thought it was funny

That raping another human being amounted to nothing more than teenage kicks. That they would be so brazen about doing this unthinkable thing, that they’d stream it live on the internet. I don’t know about you, but my head feels like it wants to explode right about now.

The worst part is that it’s not the first time I’ve read a story like this. Just last week I read something similar. The girl was gang raped by boys, whilst girls watched. She was then harassed and physically assaulted by the girls some time afterwards. She tried to get past the atrocities that we’re inflicted upon her, but couldn’t. In the end she took her own life because she couldn’t live with the pain.

Every day it seems horror stories like this are appearing

Kids being bullied so badly that their only escape is suicide. A nine year old hung himself recently. Nine? Polly will be nine next year, and I can’t even bring myself to imagine what this would be like. 

I myself am no stranger to bullying. I was bullied horribly in several of the eight schools I went to as a kid. I even took an overdose as a cry for help. Bullying has been around forever. It’s an unfortunate fact that some people pick on the weak and vulnerable to make themselves feel better. To make them feel strong and powerful.

Here’s the thing though: only cowards bully. Only cretins of the highest order make others suffer to make themselves feel good. Only the truly weak among us would hurt the vulnerable

does your child think rape is funny? Bullying has changed though. It’s constant now. It’s in school, on the way to school, on the way home from school. It’s on Whatsapp groups and on social media. It’s on seemingly harmless online games that our kids have to play otherwise they’ll feel left out.

And it would seem that when that gets boring and doesn’t quite scratch the itch, these bullies are moving onto violence of hideous proportions.

Rape. The ultimate violation of another human being

Is it the easy access to porn that is to blame? Just like bullying, porn has always been around. I wrote a blog a few years back saying that I feel porn played a role in my own sexual abuse as a child. Now that anyone who owns a phone can get their hands on porn, it certainly raises alarm bells in my head.

So my question is, dear readers, what are your kid’s views on rape? Because there comes a point where us parents cannot sit back and deny all knowledge of what our children are up to. It’s on us to teach them right from wrong. That’s our job.

It’s up us to monitor what our children are doing

Most parent in this day and age live in fear that their child will be bullied, but what about the other side of the coin? Someone’s child is doing the bullying. We can’t just sit back and sleepwalk into this horrendous situation. We need to stop it in its tracks before it goes too far.

I haven’t got the answers, far from it, but I would urge you to watch this video. Lucy Alexander lost her son Felix when he committed suicide after seven years of abuse

My heart goes out to all these victims and their families. It’s times like this that I truly question what kind of world we’re living in.

Our Kids Need and Deserve Good Role Models Role models were in short supply when I was growing up. In fact, by the age of eleven, my only good role model was dead.

My childhood was full of women who were deeply unsatisfied with their lot. Almost every one I encountered before leaving home at 15 had a story of heartbreak to tell. Mostly due to settling down with (settling for) awful men who treated them like crap.

They got beaten, raped, cheated on, emotionally tormented

This makes incredibly sad to think about, but there’s no way to dress it up. Keeping afloat was the best they could manage, being role models wasn’t on their radar.

Unsurprisingly these women were consumed by life’s challenges, desperately wanting a brighter tomorrow with no idea how to create it. They didn’t live, they existed. They survived. Just about. They were stuck in the past, marred by the deep dark secrets that ate away at their souls.

From as young as eight or nine, I remember thinking that I didn’t want to end up like them

Every one of them were vocal about their kids not going through what they had been through. But their words and crossed fingers were not enough to prevent the inevitable from happening.

That’s the thing about not letting history repeat itself. It doesn’t just happen organically, we have to actively make sure it doesn’t happen. If we want to break the mould we have to work damn hard to smash it to pieces.

For people like me, who didn’t come from a privileged background, it can be a constant battle just to keep our heads above water. Especially when life keeps dealing out the shitty cards, but no-one becomes an inspirational poster girl by having an easy ride.

If we decide to become parents, not continuing the cycle of dysfunction is paramount. Everything we do has an impact on our children. Every action has the ability to shape them, for better or worse. Which is why dealing with the demons of the past is so important. So we can let go of our hurt and move forward. So we can get to live the lives we deserve, and become great role models for our kids.

Self-respect (or lack of it) is contagious

It’s a tall order to expect a young woman, or man for that matter, to emerge into adulthood with self-respect if they didn’t witness it growing up. If the people who were supposed to be their role models were anything but. Good role models exude true confidence, which comes from respecting ourselves and knowing our worth.

role models It’s impossible to teach confidence, we can only learn it through behaviour. Which is why it’s so important for our children to observe us respecting ourselves and each other. How are they supposed to know how to behave appropriately if they aren’t shown?

I don’t believe in ‘faking it until you make it’

I think our energy is better spent living as authentically as we possibly can. By getting to properly know ourselves, and what we want out of this life. By learning to not care what others think about us. Not being afraid to go against the grain, and stand up for our beliefs.  

Surrounding ourselves with awesome people who lift us up is a great place to start. When we have genuine friendships we have no need or desire to second guess their motives. We know they have our back, and we could turn up on their doorstep in the middle of the night if we were in trouble. They wouldn’t ask questions, they’d simply listen to our woes and dry our tears.

Something I’ve learnt on my own rocky journey, is that it’s impossible to properly screw up when we have great friends.  

In our always on, selfie-mad, celebrity obsessed world, the best thing we can do is set a good example for our children. We need to show them love and kindness through our actions. We have to let them see via us how important it is to have great friends around. 

I don’t claim or aim to be perfect. Far far from it. But I do know that I have to be happy and positive if I expect my kids to be. It’s not easy, but I’ll never stop trying.

Why My Daughter's Ability to Mask her Autism Brings me Zero Comfort

photo credit: Le Coin de Mel

Another post I’ve been wanting to write for too long, but have only managed to do so in my head until now. Another post I’m hesitant over pressing publish on. I’m not entirely sure why, when I so desperately need to get these words out. I’d like to talk today about my eldest daughter Polly’s autism masking skills.

I went back to work when Polly was eleven months old. She was at day care two days a week, and did a full year at pre-school. She then did two years in mainstream school before we made the decision to home educate her.

Polly learnt her autism masking skills at a very young age

In many respects, she’s the master of disguise. I’ve heard words to this effect countless times from friends and family.

“She’s the perfect angel when she’s with us.”

“She puts my own kids to shame.”

“I wish my own kids were as well behaved as Polly is.”  

I’m not a tiger mum, and I’ve never been a fan of chameleon-like behaviour. I’m very much a what you see is what you get type of person. The masking is perhaps the hardest thing for me to understand about Polly’s autism.

Other people telling me that my daughter is the perfect child, can also feel like there’s a hidden meaning behind their words.    

The trouble is, all the masking is exhausting

It brings me little comfort to know that Polly goes to the effort of masking her autism for others. Because she so often treats her family like pieces of dirt.

That might sound harsh, but in the last few days I’ve been kicked, hit, punched. I’ve had things thrown at me, and been told that I’m hated. For many years this pent up anger was directed at her younger brother and sister. We’ve had to work relentlessly hard for Polly to truly understand that it’s not acceptable for her to be so violent towards them. I’m pleased to say that things have massively improved on that front. Finally the out and out spitefulness has (thank the heavens) abated.

Now it’s directed towards me instead

autism maskingIt should go without saying that I’m happy to be the punching bag, if it means my little ones aren’t copping it. But where does it stop? I’ve read so many heart wrenching stories of ultra violent autistic tweens and teens. 

Worse still are the stories of autistic adults in their twenties, who are depressed. Who self-harm, and starve themselves. Who are so miserable at their core, and don’t know how to get back to happy. 

I might be completely wrong, but it feels that Polly’s autism masking is at the root of her sadness. That she’s perpetually exhausted by feeling she has to behave differently depending who she’s with.    

So how do we get her to stop masking, and just be happy to be herself?

I don’t have the answers unfortunately.

Home education is helping, without a doubt. We’re making our way through a fantastic autism workbook, which is enlightening. I constantly praise her for her efforts, and try and explain in depth why she is or isn’t allowed to do certain things. I tell her we love her, and offer her hugs multiple times throughout the day. We’ve even swapped gymnastics for jui-jitsu.

We are so bloody consistent with our parenting it makes my head hurt.

But still this aggression. This violent streak that just doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.

I know that worrying won’t help, but it’s a parent’s prerogative right?

I guess for now, I can only hope that the things we are doing will make a difference long term.

Does your child mask their autism? Do you have any advice for me? I’d love to hear from you!