I’ve been on “the Internets” for a long time now. I’ve interacted with a lot of people and seen a lot of things. So it was with a bit of trepidation when my husband and I decided to allow our son to play an online game on the system we got the kids for Christmas.
Yes, we’ve talked to both the kids about online safety, we’ve laid down the rules, and they’ve honored them without hesitation. They know, and trust, that we’re looking out for their safety. Plus, the console sits right in the middle of the living room in full view of everyone.
The Xbox, however, has this really cool app that you can add to your Android and you can do all kinds of things from the app (even use it as a console remote when the console’s on!) when you’re not on the console … like use the messaging service.
My son’s met a number of people while playing his favorite game. Some of them have been kids, clearly, and he’s used the “chat hat” to talk to a couple.
Lately though, (like the last few weeks) this one character has popped up that I’m about 90% certain is not anything like who they’re claiming to be, and am pretty certain is a predator of some sort. There’ve been a lot of red flags.
First, they don’t have a mic to talk, but want my son to use his so they can hear him. They text, he chats in response. Not fair in my book and I’m about to call a halt to that tactic. He doesn’t even know if this person is male or female, adult, kid, or Martian. Flag.
Second, they supposedly share the screen name with a sibling, so “sometimes it’s my brother, sometimes it’s me.” Seriously? Microsoft allows you to have multiple people in your online family, so why would you have to share a screen name? Flag.
Next, it was, “What’s your real name?” Some people elect to allow their real names to be seen online. My kids are not allowed to do that. She (They claim to be a 17 y/o girl) made up a name for my son, then kept asking him for his real name, so he made one up. Flag.
After that it was, “Do you have a girlfriend?” Flag.
Then it was, “I know we haven’t known each other very long but I think I love you.” FLAG.
Last night, it became, “I think I’m bi.” FLAG FLAG!
My son asked why they thought that and this person responded, “Because I was watching something bad and then I started touching myself.” Oh hell to the FLAGFLAGFLAG!
I am aboutthisclose to telling him he has to unfriend this person – at which point I know they’ll come back under a different screen name and try to start the process all over again, and my son will resent me. My son wants me to trust him, and know that he’ll not do anything stupid, like get emotionally attached in any way or reveal anything personal. My son’s a good kid and he’s pretty mature for his age. I do trust him on a lot of levels. But this is a new arena for him, one I’m familiar with, and he needs to trust me, too. I’ve given him all kinds of suggestions on how he can respond to this person’s messages, things like, “You should talk to your parents or a pastor or school counselor,” “I’m not looking for an online romance kind of thing, I just want a gamer friend,” and “I’m not comfortable talking about these things, let talk about something else.”
The online community can be a wonderful thing – I should know, I met my husband there! But it is also full of a lot of dark elements – I’ve met them, too – that I don’t want to touch my kids in any way, shape, or form. I want my kids to learn to interact with people, and also to know how to be wary, and savvy. Those things only come from experience. So I have to guide them, help them navigate this world. People get suckered all the time – even grown-ups! We simply HAVE to be careful and distrustful, as much as we’d like to give the benefit of the doubt.
In the meantime, my son knows I’m shining a flashlight on this character and keeping my eye on how things develop. He knows what to look for, and he knows he can come talk to me and his dad about anything that happens.
Whoever said “the Internets” would make life easier didn’t have teens, lol!