Single mum Denise Van Outen is determined to protect her daughter from the dangers of the online world — and she’s using a comic strip to help her.
The performer and presenter admits she’s a technophobe, and until recently didn’t really understand how to use parental controls on her 12-year-old daughter Betsy’s phone.
“I hold my hands up, I wasn’t very good — I’m a bit of a tech-phobe and I don’t really know how to work a lot of phone apps,” says the 48-year-old from Essex . “Quite often, I have to ask my daughter, and she seems to know a lot more than me.
“But you suddenly say, ‘Hang on a minute, I’ve got a daughter who’s a teenager’ and you hear all sorts of horror stories about what children are exposed to online, and trolling — there are so many dangers, and I think it’s important for parents like myself to have a real understanding and be able to discuss it with your child properly.”
“Betsy laughs at me because there are so many things I don’t know how to work on a phone.
She admits she’s only just started to understand how to use parental controls, but stresses: “I keep an eye on how long Betsy’s on her phone, and I’ve put all these things in place, different settings that we’re told to use . It was all new to me, I didn’t know they existed!
“Once you understand and get your head around how your device works, it’s not hard at all knowing what to do.”
Van Outen says Betsy got her first phone when she was 11, and is not yet allowed to use social media platforms like Instagram.
“You try to protect your children for as long as you can,” she explains. “My daughter hasn’t got an Instagram account. I’ve held off her being on there, or any of those social platforms, just because I worry about her — she’s a young lady developing, and they see all these filtered, perfect bodies. I want her to understand what life’s like in the real world.”
But despite her mum insisting she doesn’t go on social media platforms, Betsy has still seen things that have upset her on her phone, and Van Outen is a firm believer that parents and children regularly chat about what they see and do online, is an important way to limit any potential damage.
“I’ve always tried to have conversations with her — I think it’s key that you discuss everything with your kids,” she stresses. “We’ve had a lot of conversations after Betsy saw inappropriate things — she’s seen things on TikTok that flash up and, for a young girl, are quite scary.
“We always talk at bedtime. Sometimes, she can be a bit quiet and I’ll ask her what’s wrong and she’ll say she saw something that upset her, and we’ll talk about it.
“I think sometimes kids can be a bit embarrassed to say something, especially if it’s anything sexual, or something they might feel a bit uncomfortable talking to their parents about.
“It’s important your kid knows you’re there, and nothing’s going to shock or surprise us, we’ve all been there.”
Van Outen says she’s also concerned about advertising bombarding youngsters online.
“I forget that at her age she reads something and thinks it’s genuine and real — you need to be aware of what’s true and get a real understanding of it.”
The busy working mum admits she uses her own phone a lot, but is aware of the need to be a role model for her daughter, so tries to minimize use outside working hours.
“I’m as guilty as her for using my phone – I look sometimes and think ‘Oh my God, I’ve been on my phone for hours!’ – but I travel everywhere and I don’t take a laptop with me, so I do everything from my phone.
“When I’m at home in the evenings, I put my phone down. I don’t always get it right, like all parents, but I do my best.”
Van Outen split with Betsy’s dad Lee Mead in 2013, and subsequently had a seven-year relationship with commodities trader Eddie Boxshall, which ended in January this year. But her priority is, of course, her daughter.
“I’m lucky because we’re close,” she says proudly. “There’s only the two of us, so she opens up to me about pretty much everything, and I’m quite pleased about that. I’ve been a single parent twice in my lifetime, so on both occasions, there’s just been the two of us. We only have each other to talk to sometimes.
“I do hope she’d come to me about anything that concerned her. I’ve got open ears and an open heart and I just hope I can help her as much as I can, and guide her through her life.”