She’s the most precious thing in my life – my baby girl.
Saying her first word, taking her first steps and meeting her first friends are memories I cherish.
Watching her growing up, enjoying school, dancing on stage and falling in love with gymnastics filled me with pride as she blossomed.
But as quickly as she dropped ‘mummy’ for ‘mum’, she’s 13 now – and all I feel is fear.
She’s still my baby girl, she always will be, but she’s grown her wings and is finding her place in the world.
A new school has meant new friends, new hobbies and new numbers in her phone belonging to people I have never met.
Having gone from having total control and responsibility for every minute of my daughter’s life, it has taken some getting used to her telling me of her plans for the day, the night, the weekends, the holidays, her future.
Still overcome with pride at the caring, hard working, funny, beautiful young woman she is becoming (I’m biased I know!), the flip side of the coin is the independence which comes with growing up.
Rewind 27 years to when I was her age, if I wanted to meet a friend I had to use the phone in the hallway at home – within earshot of mum, dad and my two sisters. There was no such thing as a private conversation.
These days my daughter is never away from the phone, but it’s hers and is rarely used to speak to friends.
Texting, snapchat, Facebook and WhatsApp have replaced the art of conversation and created a secret world to which parents do not belong.
But it is a world with a murky undercurrent and no matter how much a parent trusts a child, unless you snoop and go through all their personal messages, you have no idea who they are chatting to online.
You wouldn’t leave your child in a room full of paedophiles but once you let your son or daughter loose online they could be mixing with anyone. All I know is that I have a knot in my stomach every time I see my daughter with her phone in her hand....even more so after watching a film released by Leicestershire Police recently on the rape and murder of a schoolgirl who was groomed online by a stranger.
Kayleigh Harwood was just two years older than my daughter when she was contacted online by a stranger, only to be raped and murdered two weeks later.
Over the course of 13 days Kayleigh and Luke Harlow exchanged 2,643 messages.
He told her she was beautiful, how much he cared for her and that she was special.
Kayleigh fell for the trap, met up with her new online friend and was raped and murdered by his neighbour before her body was dumped in woodland.
I can’t even begin to imagine the pain and heartache her parents must feel.
All I know is that I will watch the film with my daughter tonight, stress the importance of online safety and give her the biggest hug possible as I count my blessings, knowing that Kayleigh’s parents will never be able to do that ever again.