Sunday 13 October 2019

Amanda Brunker: 'I'm worried my kids will be groomed online'

Amanda Brunker with her sons L to R: Setanta (8) and Edward (9) McLaughlin
Amanda Brunker with her sons L to R: Setanta (8) and Edward (9) McLaughlin

Amanda Brunker

Once upon a time, the term ‘nicely groomed’ had a clear innocence about it.

In my case, it was how my mother liked to see me going to church on a Sunday. ‘Twas a shame she was usually disappointed.

Today, the word ‘grooming’ has a very sinister meaning. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll be aware that it’s the befriending and trust-building by adults of minors.

Child grooming is nothing new. Men (in 99pc of cases) have always preyed on young vulnerable children. Often becoming friendly with the parents to gain their trust first before making their moves on their kids. This continues to happen every day and is a classless, religionless phenomenon.

Most of us would like to believe that we are a good judge of character. Many of us refuse to take any chances when it comes to the strangers surrounding our precious smallies. But sometimes, no matter how diligent we are, perverts can find a way of getting close to our children. Which brings me back to the topic of mobile phones.

Last week, I wrote about how my sons wanted iPhones for Christmas. I very firmly told them, and shared with all you readers, how they wouldn’t be getting what their hearts desired. There will be no phones coming into the Brunker household… iPhones, or any other phones, for that matter.

Often after I write about a subject, I tend to forget what I had discussed, so I watched with great interest as Ireland AM chose my article as one of their topics of the morning.

I was surprised at the level of enthusiasm from the people that got involved in the discussion. Overwhelmingly, people agreed with my viewpoint. Most people thought that the 12-13 age bracket was acceptable for kids to be allowed their first smartphone.

However, there was also a huge amount of people who said that they had already given their six to nine year olds hand-me-down smartphones, which didn’t have any sim cards in them. 

Sadly, there was little communication from those parents whose children (under teenage years) did have fully-working smartphones. Were they embarrassed? Because they certainly are not in the minority if my children’s school is anything to draw comparisons on.

As I listened to the Ireland AM viewer comments, I was shocked that none of them referred to the issue of grooming — or showed any awareness that by simply having a smartphone on their person, their child could be exposed to a possible attack and theft.

But personally, my biggest worry is online grooming. While presenter Mark Cagney touched on the fact that if kids wanted to access sensitive material (in other words, dodgy porn sites), they could already do that from their tablets at home.

And he is correct. But why, as a parent, should I roll over on the idea of a phone so my boys could have unlimited access throughout a school day to chat rooms and Snapchat?

To me that’s just giving them far too much rope.

With perverts free to prowl kids’ online games such as Clash of Clans, Boom Beach and Minecraft — these are just a few that my nine-year-old admitted to having looked at in the past — I say: be aware parents, be aware.


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