It’s Saturday night and my cell phone starts ringing. I don’t answer because we are eating dinner. My home phone rings, then the text sound goes off on my cell phone. I run to get it as someone is trying to reach me, maybe it’s an emergency. I read the text: “Please call me I have an emergency with my son and pornography.” It’s a text from a friend, Jill (name has been changed). This is her story. I am sharing it with you to use as a teachable moment in the hopes that if you read this and you say this could never happen to your child – you will think again. It can happen to anyone.
Jill begins by explaining that she left her children, 8 and 9 year old boys, playing a kids game on the computer in their room and went to the kitchen. I don’t know how long she was gone from the room but one of the boys comes running to her yelling that his brother is showing his privates to someone on the computer. Hysterical she runs into the room to see her son with pants down in front of the computer. I am not sure all that went down at the house before she called me… but when she called me she was hysterical, and I could hear her son in the background freaking out.
I try to calm her down and help her with what to say to her child to calm him down. “You made a mistake, but it’s not your fault.” I can’t hear everything she is saying so I tell her to get her husband to hug him and calm him down with soothing words. I tell her, “You must call the nonemergency sheriff’s department right now and tell them exactly what happened. They will come over and help you. They can probably find out who the person was.” She calms down somewhat and then calls the police. She calls me a little later, the police arrived, took the laptop the kids were using, and now with their help understands how simple it was for a total stranger, predator, pedophile – whatever you want to call him – was able to enter the safety of their home.
Here is how simple it was:
While the kids were on a child friendly game – a random tinychat (see tinychat.com) came up which asked the boys if they like Justin Bieber. One of the children entered the chat and responded. He was asked how old he was and where he was from. The child responded.
At this point the predator was already able to view the boys as tinychat is a video chat room. The predator asked the boys to share their address so he could send them tickets to Justin Bieber. One of the boys did. The predator then asked the boy who he was corresponding with “ if you show your private parts I will give you free tickets.” The boy undressed and showed his private part – all the while his brother is saying, “Don’t do it! It’s not safe.”
His brother does not listen. He runs screaming to his mother that his brother is showing his privates to someone on the computer. Mom comes running in the room to find her child naked in front of the computer. Could this happen in your home? Jill didn’t think it could happen in her home. She is well educated, affluent, lives in a gated community, and the safety of her children is a top priority to her. She is sad, and disturbed on so many levels. Baffled by how easily her child was taken in by this predator.
The predator knows where they live and her mind can’t stop thinking did he take a picture of my son, did he send it to his other sick friends? She feels violated and scared.
Again, I ask you, “Do you think this could happen in your home?” Jill never thought it could happen in hers and asked me to share it with the world. “Scream it from the rooftops,” she said. If only to help another family. This story is very real and is happening in homes across our country. It does not matter where you live, what ethnicity you are, what socioeconomic level you are in – all children are at risk and all parents need to set guidelines and learn safety themselves so they can best supervise their children while online.
Here is how we can help keep our children safe online:
• The computer needs to be in an open area of the house (had the computer been where his parents could see him they would surely have seen, without hovering, that their child was about to undress – and the incident probably would never have gone that far to begin with). No computers in the bedroom.
• Teach your children no matter what, all of those offers what (free tickets, free iPad – whatever is your child’s thing of the week), popups, etc., are scams – explain to them what a scam is. This is a good time to teach that if it seems too good to be true then it probably is. Always report popups, instant messages, chats, etc. to your grownup.
• Children should NEVER use chat rooms!!
• Teach children to never ever respond when asked to enter their info to a popup, chat, even a new website that they would like to explore until they have Checked First with you.
• If you feel your child is old enough and responsible enough for an email address you need to teach them about NEVER opening an email unless you know who it is from. If you receive something and are unsure – they should show it to their grownup (Check First).
As you can see there is a theme here: Check First. This is the story’s teachable skill. If along the way these children were checking first, the ending would have been very different. Number one: the computer would have been in an open area. When the tinychat (and there are many other similar sites out there) about the Beiber Tickets came up, the kids would have gotten excited and probably turned to the adult who is in ear shot and said "Hey Mom, we can win Justin Beiber tickets. This guy said so. Can we?" (That is kids communicating with their adult – Checking First.) If that adult was listening between the lines they would have walked over and to see what it was all about. Hopefully, the adult would have realized immediately that it was some kind of scam. But let’s say she is gullible and perhaps a big Bieber fan herself, and she says, "Mommy will check this out." She would perhaps have started chatting with this person and very soon realize this isn’t what it seemed, hopefully would get the larger scope of it and report it to the police before any exposure would have occurred and any other children were violated online.
The reality is that even if she had popup blockers on her computer, (which I am sure she will install now) that is not enough. The kids need to learn safety skills so they know when to Check First with their adult. This gives the adult the opportunity to model for their children safe and smart choices. The internet is an adult world that our children are playing in often for hours on end. We need to keep up with our children. Just because they know how to technically use the computer does not mean they are mature or responsible enough to make safe choices while online. For more info on what and how to teach your children safety online go to www.kidsafefoundation.org
PS – I went onto tinychat to learn for myself. Every day we are learning new ways predators reach out to our children, and we need to be aware. I joined a random video chat room-others in the chat appeared to be in their late teens and early twenties. Within 10 seconds of being on, (I didn’t even have enough time to read the chat so I could see what they were talking about) one of the males starts playing with himself on camera… Parents: These are not sites we as parents are using, but our kids know about them and are using them. If we do not start talking with our kids about choices they make online, and their personal safety from a young age, the consequences could be harmful. Please talk to your kids from a young age about Checking First.