Facebook spying could be lifesaver

EVERY day, children barely old enough to pop to the sweet shop alone expose themselves, with their parents' knowledge, to a murky, enticing, instantly exciting and extremely addictive world of danger and risk.

EVERY day, children barely old enough to pop to the sweet shop alone expose themselves, with their parents' knowledge, to a murky, enticing, instantly exciting and extremely addictive world of danger and risk.

'I'll Facebook you,' primary school children yell to each other at the gates as they head off home.

Facebook might have been designed for adults but it's become the new collecting craze for infant school children to sixth formers - move over football cards and stamps. Today's children collect 'friends.'

Compulsive games like Farmville and Cafeworld draw in the children, many under the regulation sign-up age of 13.

Anyone can log on with a made-up date of birth and a quarter of children between eight and 12 have signed up to social networking sites.

Instantly children are sucked into an intriguing world where everyone has the potential to be a new best 'friend'. The word 'friend' instantly implies trust.

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Chatting is free and easy with no inhibitions and no need for eye contact - or, more crucially, honesty.

Everyone can be anyone they want to be. It is a world where popularity is gauged by a number on a list of friends. But anyone can pretend to be a friend in fantasyland.

My older son has nearly 800 Facebook friends. It's preposterous. Who has 800 friends? No one. My point exactly. This is scary for any mother.

He probably knows only a 10th of his 'friends', if that, and even fewer are real mates or even acquaintances he would even say 'hello' to. But, because these friends of friends of friends appear in his list they feel safe and friendly.

They probably are. But who can tell?

Infuriated that I was monitoring his on-line activity, he dumped me as a friend.

'You're spying on me,' he accused when I leapt on something inappropriate.

But that's my job. My responsibility. I intervened again - thanks to his master of espionage brother - when he was 'chatting' to a girl he'd never met and didn't know at all.

I've spoken to both my boys until their eyes glaze over about the dangers of predatory adults posing as teenagers and children to become 'friends' on social networking sites.

Yeah, yeah, they say. Whatever. You can almost see your warnings floating between their ears, not bothering to hang around and floating straight on out again.

Teenagers know best.

Anyone can be plausible on an instant message chat. Ashleigh Hall was murdered by a man pretending to be a teenage boy, girls have been bullied on the site.

Most parents believe they're responsible and doing their best to protect their children.

But no one truly can achieve that today.

We might insist on knowing where our children are, who they are with, what time they'll be home and how they will get there, if they're keeping up with their homework and behaving themselves.

This was all very easy 20 years ago when the worst parents had to contend with was the lure of a bottle of cider and ten Number 6s from the corner off-licence and sneaky post-watershed viewing.

But the Internet has made responsible parenting practically impossible - no parent could possibly put their hand on their heart and say they know what their child is doing and who they're talking to 24 hours a day.

All we can do is trust them not to trust others. And, like me, be innovative with our shameless spying to keep tabs on who they're talking to. It's not an invasion of their privacy, it's responsible parenting and perhaps a lifesaver.

Every warning might be met with the usual belligerent 'whatever' - but poor Ashleigh Hall probably said that too.

ON the subject of Facebook, why are people compelled to bore everyone senseless with the minutia of their humdrum lives?

Facebook posts range from the bizarre abstract nonsense to the blatantly boringly obvious.

Whatever possesses someone to go to the effort of logging on their computer and typing: 'Think I'll buy a paper' as a window into their less than thrilling life.

Or: 'Watching the football then having steak for tea.' Whoopeedoo. Or the loopy: 'I'm a flower' posts.

As if wasting energy on broadcasting such mundane twaddle isn't bad enough, taking time to read it is even worse. No wonder we're all strapped for time and stressed so involved we make ourselves in the dull lives of others.

ONCE upon a time dogs worried me.

I would give them a wide berth, never made a fuss of friends' dogs and thought them lolloping, in-your-face slobbering nuisances.

I'd make excuses not to visit one friend because her two out-of-control English setters terrified the living daylights out of me.

I just didn't get the 'man's best friend' thing.

How could people be so soppy about their hounds? How can they treat them on a par with humans? And, I admit it; I was heard to say more than once when anyone lost a dog.

'They can't be that upset. It was only a dog.'

Now, if anyone dared to refer to my canine pride and joy - my baby boy - as 'only a dog' I couldn't be responsible for my actions.

So how can it be that I'm writing this with two black Labradors either side of my feet and my own golden retriever wedged in between?

Suddenly, like discovering a taste for Marmite late in life, I realised what was missing in life was the company, pleasure and comfort brought by a dog.

Life Before Leo (BL) I had no idea of the wonders of the broadland walks at the end of our road. I knew no one in our village and had suffered none of the embarrassment of owning a hyperactive hound.

Now I'm known in the village as the woman with 'that naughty dog', people stop to chat, I get loads of exercise - too much sometimes sprinting across marshland in my wellies to retrieve him from having a bossy bark at swans - and I know, if he ever escaped without his collar on, most people in the village would know where to return him.

This week I'm dog sitting for a friend bringing a triple complement of canine trouble in the house. It feels like a trio of burly hoodies are rampaging around.

They are unruly, invade everyone's personal space and egg each other one to do cheeky deeds.

But, in the temporary company - and security - of three dogs, I'm thinking of extending my own canine family. I can now see why some people prefer animals to people.

LANDFILL sites across Britain and the States must be on red alert.

They're about to become a new version of Silicone Valley. Fake breasts are as pass� as prawn cocktail. Implants are now so noughties.

Like the tango tan, artificial boobs are as out-dated as last week's Sunday chicken as a natural cleavage with nature's size, shape and bounce is back. Mothers of teenage girls breathe a sigh of relief.

Cosmetic surgery as a whole is on the wane.

Even Disney Studio's recent casting call for female extras for the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean insisted on real breasts. 'Do not submit if you have implants.'

But all these unwanted implants have to go somewhere -out with the rubbish.

Hopefully now the Barbie doll stereotypical image of the perfect woman is out too and this decade will be one to celebrate the natural, the differences and general contentment with what nature gave science and us can rarely really improve.

And we can all stop feeling inadequate and old. Sort of.

IN a world of binge drinking, one-night stands, Internet dating and long-dead chivalry, it's interesting that 30-somethings are indulging in a spot of old romance with Mills and Boon novels.

I've never read a Mills and Boon, she says hastily, and assumed readers were post middle-aged in the need of a reminder what romance and all the trimmings were.

But apparently the plots, although racy but based on romance with no one-night stands and no smoking, are enticing younger women into investing in the books in digital versions to read on electronic reading devices.

Its 'Spice' categories are selling particularly well.

Men take heed. Young women don't want to witness their men downing ten pints a night, grabbing a kebab on the way home to collapse on the doorstep with not a sniff of romance in sight.

If they can't get it in real life, they'll settle for a fictional devilishly handsome man to sweep them off their feet in romance.

I'm off to the library.