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Parents must seize control to protect young from predators

I LOVE going in to wake my daughter up in the morning. She looks so sweet and safe in her pink and white room.

She turns nine at the weekend, and keeping her safe is going to get harder. I'm just getting to grips with the threat to her innocence from the internet.

I've been a fairly ignorant parent. I let my 12-year-old son set up a Facebook page without making him restrict access to friends. I didn't confirm him as a friend, because he never asked.

It was only when some other mothers started mentioning his page in alarmed tones -- he said his main interest was women -- that I bothered to look.

But the dangers of the internet are much greater for girls. Social interaction is important but part of that is peer approval, which can get out of hand.

I was a wild teenager who drank, hung out with older men and had weight issues. Looking back, I put it all down to self-hatred and a need for approval.

Nowadays, the terrible lack of self-confidence that seems to dog girls can be exploited by the internet. Facebook pictures show "shiny, happy people".

What does this do to the girl sitting on her own feeling ugly? And peer pressure can easily turn into bullying.

Internet security consultant Amanda Chambers says drum it into your daughters to "reflect before they self-reveal". And to say nothing about others they wouldn't like said about themselves.


Ms Chambers says she doesn't think the internet sexualises girls as much as magazines and pop stars. But pictures of half-dressed kids on Facebook draw in the pervs, who now have a world of images to feed their addiction.

This is where the privacy settings come in. You've got to make them restrict their Facebook page to friends only, you've got to make them view all postings that go on their page.

Advertising is another way of exploiting young girls' need to fit in, and you can disable the advertising which pops up on your kid's Facebook page.

Worst of all, when a kid goes off the rails, she can find a community on the internet to help her on her way. Most stomach-turning for me, as a former borderline anorexic, are the "pro-anorexia" sites, saying things like, "being thin and not eating are true signs of willpower and success".

How can I keep my healthy little camogie queen away from this poison?

Ms Chambers says she advises people to keep their computer in full view of the family. But with iPhones and iTouches and iPads, that's out the window.

But hold on. I've been asked how I kept my daughter so innocent. I didn't know what people were talking about until I met the nine-year-old daughter of a friend who acted like a teen. I'm beginning to think my daughter is the way she is because I restricted the telly.

I was told it couldn't be done. But it's the natural way we live in this house now. I'm beginning to think there'll be no iPhones or iPads for my daughter ever.

Just because we parents didn't grow up with the new technology doesn't mean it has to control us. We're still the parents. We're still responsible.