Written by Claire Handrick


Living with a teenage stranger

Claire Handrick has misjudged the challenges of being the mother of a teenager and has decided to chronicle the joys, frustrations, hair-pulling moments and deep-rooted fears she’s experiencing. This week has been a surprisingly good week.

All illustrations by Harriet Carmichael.

Illustration by Harriet Carmichael.

I am revelling in a good week with my teenager – a week without drama, or rudeness. There has been good communication, good humour and good company. We have had some brilliant political discussions, chats about her future and her dreams.

Recently we have needed to talk about responsibility; responsibility for her own safety and for her future. It was a talk I expected to fall on deaf ears but I needed to say it and I left her to mull over my thoughts and my concerns.

While I need her to know I am there for her, she also needs to know I cannot protect her from everything, however much I want to. This responsibility has to start with online safety. She doesn’t use Facebook or Twitter but she does use Instagram.

I very naively thought she was just sharing a few pics with some friends but something she said troubled me so I checked out her account and I found public settings, too many followers and too many private messages from people she doesn’t know.

There’s a whole other world out there that she doesn’t know about – predators and abusers who can attract teenage girls when they are vulnerable and trying to work out who they are.

My initial chat made her angry because I had spied and I showed my distrust. She denied my concerns and accused me of panicking about something that, in her world, doesn’t happen. So I did some research and I had another chat, a calmer chat, about the risks, about how predators can operate online, about how vulnerable she is making herself.

I asked her: “Would you talk to a stranger who spoke to you on the tube?” She pulled a face and replied no. I asked: “what if that stranger was a teenage girl like you?” She replied that maybe she would chat back. So I explained that maybe an adult would need to pretend to be a teenage boy or girl to be able to chat to her.

I sat back as the penny started to drop. She still doesn’t completely get it – teenagers can think they are invincible; they often don’t see the dangers and they don’t understand our fears as an adult and as their parent.

But the account settings have been changed, followers have been deleted and an agreement has been reached that her account can be checked.

If she sets up another account, I won’t know about it . All I can do is aim to educate, guide and support her as best I can, to make her aware of the potential dangers and to encourage her to take more responsibility for herself.

I have also encouraged her to make more effort with real-life friends at school, rather than with the strangers online. So far, she seems to be happier. It might be short lived, but I’ll take it!

Read the rest of Claire Handrick’s columns here.

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Written by Claire Handrick

Mother, ponderer and cake eater.