So this story broke today about how perverts are using Fortnight and other multi-player internet-based games to lure children into God-knows-what nefarious schemes and all I have to say about this is YOU KNOW THAT I’VE BEEN SCREAMING ABOUT THIS FOR YEARS.
Not you, relatively-new wordpress visitor. Facebook friends and real life friends in general. Yeah, you already know this about me.
OK. Here’s the thing. I may have developed a semi-unhealthy obsession with true crime shows. NOT crime procedural shows like NCIS Kalamazoo or whatever city that show is about these days.
I am talking about documentaries and podcasts about cults, serial killers, disappearances, kidnappings, cold cases, and totally bananas bank heists (seriously though, are you watching Evil Genius? Because that is beyond bananas). I have spent an untold number of Friday nights running down an internet rabbit hole for information about the disappearance of Johnny Gosch. An inordinate amount of my brain space is taken up by The Staircase. (I have a theory. It was not the owl.) I have a google alert set for updates on The Golden State Killer. If I’m scrolling and I happen to see the face of Jim Jones or David Koresh, everything else is forgotten until I’ve determined whether it’s something I’ve seen before, or if it’s something I need to bookmark.
I get it. It’s weird. I don’t care. Because it’s an outlet for my anxiety. And you know what else? It has helped me stay smart and alert as a parent.
And I can tell you this. It is not the 1980s anymore. Kids are way less likely to be picked up off the street by a creep in a two-tone blue Ford Fairmont than they are to be engaged by a pedophile pretending to be a fellow harmless third-grader on Fortnight.
To put it another way, I would sooner let my eight year old son walk a mile to school by himself on an actual earthly sidewalk than I would let him fart around on the internet unsupervised.
I am not a helicopter parent. I let my kids climb on things. I do not do their homework for them. I have no desire to wrap them in bubble wrap. I do not call teachers if some kid cusses at my kid on the playground. I think wearing a helmet while wobbling around on a bike in the driveway is a bit excessive. And speaking of helmets, I was advised to get my kid a helmet to address his flat head “problem” when he was a baby. I did not follow this advise. (I started alternating which way I laid him down in the crib each night and poof! Nice round head.)
And I’m far from perfect. But when it comes to the Internet? I will throw my computer out the window before I let my kid engage with strangers in a multi-player online game. And yeah I realize I’m getting the nomenclature wrong but that’s because I’m old and that’s part of my charm.
Parents, listen up. Your kids may be telling you that they are playing this game with other kids. They might even tell you they are playing the game with school friends, or their cousins in Topeka. BUT I PROMISE YOU, whether it is Fortnight, or some other game, or whether you let your minor have a Facebook account, they are also interacting with adults that YOU. DO. NOT. KNOW.
Do you ever take your kid to the grocery store and become uncomfortable when a random dude tries to chat up your kid? Trust that feeling. You are absolutely right to be cautious around that guy, or even that lady. And despite what your mother taught you, you do not have to be polite. You walk away, right?
And if you are trusting your gut about weirdos at the grocery store or rest areas or the park, then why are you letting your kid wander the internet alone without you?
Better yet, why are we not having the stranger danger talk with our kids when it comes to the internet? If we ARE having that conversation, then we better follow through and not set them up to be victims.
This is most definitely going to be an unpopular post. This is about as alarmist as I get. But you know what? I do not care.
My eight year old does not have his own phone or his own iPad, and he’s not getting one anytime soon. When he does play online, he plays either a) on educational sites, pre-approved by us, on our desktop in a high traffic area of the house, or b) he plays a game on my husband’s old iPod while one of us is hanging out right there, and he’s not interacting with any other humans playing said game.
He’s not setting up any personal profiles on any games that he plays. That is simply a non-negotiable in our house. And you can guess what my answer will be on the day he asks to set up a social media account. BIG FAT NO, my beautiful child. Go ahead and mock, go ahead and tell me I’m unrealistic. That’s fine.
I realize I have many eons ahead of me in my life as a parent, during which both of my children will carry on with underhanded activities about which I will know nothing. I get it. They’re kids.
But why in the world we would simply just hand our children over to the creeps, pedos, sex traffickers, bullies, and internet trolls of the world on a silver platter is beyond me.
By all means, read the articles. Get angry about these creeps on Fortnight and Minecraft and whatever else your kid plays with presumed other kids online. Go ahead and get angry and do something about it.
But don’t you dare pretend to be surprised.