Space Invaders

Mum of 13-Year-Old Schoolboy

A generation of millennials is exploring the Internet to a degree their parents struggle to comprehend. Here Clare, the mum of schoolboy Alex from South London, reveals how she found her son trying to connect to the Dark Web and watching an instructional video on ‘How To Hack NASA.’

I find it difficult to control Alex’s computer time.

I try to keep an eye on it, but for him the online world harbours all these amazing possibilities, games and activities and hooking up with people. I’m sure it’s very relaxing for him without an adult telling him what to do all the time. He’s nice and warm curled up on the sofa in a world where he has an amount of control.

There are obviously many inherent dangers, including the prolonged damage of just sitting down for a long time. You can’t entirely know where they are going and what they’re seeing even with parental controls.

Alex spends so long on it that I have to try hard to find other things for him to do. The computer is often a great babysitter – although I don’t say that without a twinge of guilt – and children of his age don’t want you looking over their shoulder all the time. Then, as soon as I take it away from him, he says: “But Mum- I need to go online to do my homework.”

Recently I saw Alex looking at a YouTube video on ‘How To Access the Dark Web’ and the instructions for putting up ‘mirrors’ so he could go on there without being traced. Then on a separate occasion I noticed he was watching something about ‘How to Hack NASA.’ We talked about it and I don’t really believe it is something he’s likely to do, but he’s just very a curious boy. He has a scattergun approach to the things he’s interested in, so he often sees something and then loses interest, but it certainly concerned me.

“The information is out there – if he really wants to find it, he can”

We’re lucky that he is quite open with us. Whatever we do or say as parents, we try to make sure he is honest about what he’s doing, but children will always be a step ahead. We can let them know where to go, but they can always find the next big thing before we know that the dangers exist. Parents are just very behind. Besides, the information is out there – if he really wants to find it, he can.

I don’t think all the other kids are as fascinated by computers as Alex. The teachers at school are certainly a long way behind. His least favourite subject at school is ICT (Information and Communications Technology). He finds it frustrating and says he knows the answers while the teacher is still figuring out which button to push on the computer. He told me they set him a task designing a programme on Scratch (a coding site), and he knew how to do it straight away and he didn’t think the teacher even knew herself.

If parents and schools can’t keep up, then I think we might need another level of support, like peer mentors to help some of the children who are most interested in technology. I always try to be clear about what he is doing, but you can only let them take you by the hand and show you.

We all have to embrace technology as a society and, for boys like him, who are a bit socially awkward and struggling to do their growing up in public, it’s nice if he can test things out without having to worry about being face- to-face with other people all the time.

But for me it’s just a worry how I can help make it a safe environment for him to do that.

* Names have been changed.