I have to admit, I love Social Media. I love the level of engagement that it provides and how we are offered a glimpse into our lives. Personally, I love being able to encourage people through something as easy as a like or a comment on one of their photos. I try and use it as a tool to speak life into every person I follow or those who follow me. In confessing my love for Social Media I also see and recognise the other side as well. The side that has the ability to distance people and at times hurt people. That side frustrates me but I remind myself that it is our responsibility to keep our heart and minds in check and not allow either of them to travel down roads of comparison or judgement.
The purpose of today’s article is more about online safety and our children and I want to talk about this for a number of reasons. Firstly, I was saddened by the recent news of a young Sydney girl who lost her life in Melbourne after a hit and run. Apparently, the girl was heading out for something to eat after playing the Pokemon Go. This horrific incident didn’t have anything to do with Pokemon Go but of course, the stories ran wild about her being run down whilst playing the game. Another reason I want to open this discussion is because I am concerned about who has access to our sweet children.
From games like Pokemon Go and Minecraft to Youtube videos and the fun kids have on musical.ly our kids are connecting with the world around them and the unknowns in this big world. I heard a story recently about a mum who decided to spend some time looking into her 11-year-old daughter’s musical.ly account. Her daughter loved uploading videos, following her friends and watching the singing and dancing that others posted. For the most part what she was doing and how she was using the app was very innocent. Red flags appeared was when this mother started looking into who was following her daughter and what the comments were. Through this initial look, she went a bit further and opened up some of the profiles and bios of what appeared to be other young girls who had signed up like her daughter. She was quick to realise that many of the bios were fake and they weren’t young girls at all.
Thankfully this mum took the time to investigate and learn about the app her daughter was using. This provided an opportunity for her to teach about online safety and the why behind the what. According to the mum, her daughter had suspected that some of the accounts were suspect but she didn’t want to bring attention to it as she thought she could possibly be banned from using the app. So, instead of speaking up she stayed quiet and possibly at risk.
Another incident was when a young boy was playing Minecraft online. That means that like any other game, he could play with people all over the world. On one particular night, he was playing and his mum walked by the ‘games room’. She heard him talking and sharing information about where they lived. She quickly went into the room and asked who her son was talking to. He informed her that he was playing with and talking to the same boy he had played with for a few weeks. He was 12-years-old and from Indianna, USA. Quick to translate time, the mother asked what a 12-year-old boy was doing up at 2:30am playing Minecraft? Her son couldn’t answer. His mother suggested that he ask the boy on the other end and asked him to use her exact words which were, ‘my mum is here and wants to know what you’re doing up so late and why you’re playing Minecraft at 2:30am every day for the last 2 weeks.’ Reluctantly her son repeated her sentence word for word. Instantly the game came to a crashing halt and the ‘boy from Indiana’ virtually vanished.
Was it a 12-year-old boy from Indiana he was playing with or, was it someone who was grooming her son and learning as much as he could about him? I’ll leave that to you to think about and if you think I’m stretching on this like me you may find it curious that the boy from Indiana was never online ready to play again. Did he all of the sudden quit playing his much loved Minecraft? Did the mother’s questions spook him? Or, was he caught out by an engaged mother who stopped and listened?
We live in a time where our kids need to be protected in our homes. They need to be taught how to communicate offline and online. The world is, indeed, at their finger tips and people are waiting and wanting to connect with them. It is our responsibility to stay socially savvy so we can teach them and protect them. These examples are just two of many that I could share with you. If your child is engaging online learn about the app, know how it works, know who they are connecting with. If you are unsure ask questions, google, update your own hard drive and know where the entry points are to our children. We don’t need to block them but we need to know where they are so we can help them navigate the digital world of connectivity that they are in. Good parenting is engaged parenting.
What do you do if you find out your child has engaged with someone they shouldn’t have? Stay calm. Don’t panic. Start a conversation by asking about the game or the app they are using. Ask questions like:
  • Tell me about this new game you’re playing?
  • How do you find people to play with?
  • Who are you currently playing with?
  • How do you gain followers, likes or fans?
Using open ended questions like this will open the door for conversation and will allow you to dig deeper. Ask if you can play with them or if you can watch their videos or what their favourite video is or level of the game. Be engaged and you will learn so much. Once you gain the knowledge start looking around and learning what you can about the people they are connected to/with. Look at profiles, see how many people follow them, read their bios, see how often they post things and what they are posting. Read their comments and the comments they make. Follow the trail that they have laid and before you know it, you will have a good idea of who they are.
I can’t stress enough how we need to be engaged in this with our kids. Find the points of entry and stand guard. Your kids need you.
Much love and respect,