First of all, I am suppose to know all about digital citizenship, online safety, and ed tech stuff, for middle schoolers anyway. I manage the 1:1 program and Innovation Lab at my middle school. So this is suppose to be my gig. Somehow, I dropped the ball…
My 6 year-old had been repeating our address and telephone number to me for a few days. She was testing herself to make sure she knew them. I celebrated with her every time she recited them correctly. As parents, we want our children to memorize their address and phone number for safety’s sake, right? She is now in first grade and knows “a lot more stuff” as she will proudly tell you. She is reading, writing, and becoming “the best” at math. Math is her thing! She is going to be a scientist, who will travel in space! Her words, not mine! She loves school and hates to miss it. Snow days are not her favorite kind of days. She misses her teacher and her friends when she isn’t there. She loves learning and exploring! She is sunshine walking, I tell you! So every time she spelled our address from the backseat of our car I cheered her on! Not thinking anything of it.
Recently, Sophia began playing a new online game. She was totally into Minecraft, but found this app with other games that is apparently “more fun”, it’s called Roblox! With Minecraft, I would hear her speaking to players online, but she wasn’t really interacting with them. If you have little ones, you’ll know what I’m talking about. It’s all about their pretend play. She would do the same when watching Youtube for Kids. Talking to the kids playing with the toys (I still don’t get this). She didn’t have “friends” on there. We had set the privacy settings so that we could manage who could send invites. Up until this point I hadn’t really considered that playing these online games would be a safety concern, because she couldn’t really read, write, or communicate in the message threads.
Well that has come to an end. She is capable of communicating and so are your kiddos!
I woke up one night shaking, in a sweat, thinking, my six year old can now communicate online. She is reading and writing proficiently! My GOD, she now knows our address!!!! OMG! OMG!!!!!! She was spelling it out in the backseat of the car! Was she sharing it with someone online??????? She could now share private information online!
DANGER!!! DANGER!!! DANGER!!!
I woke up and stumbled for her iPad, opened up the Roblox App and started going through all of the friends!
OMG, SHE HAD 68 FRIENDS!
It may not seem like a lot to you or barely a drop in the bucket for a tween, but this was my 6 year-old. She didn’t know them, I didn’t know them. They all had avatars and I couldn’t tell you if they were kids or adults!
Then, I started going into the different games (so many games) to see if there were messages. Sure enough, messages galore in the games. I could only see the last few posts. I did not see any from my little ray of sunshine! However, there were players on, playing and messaging when I went into the games. It was past 1:00 in the morning people!!!! So, I went to the Chat section! The privacy settings were not private. Anyone could chat with her. She knows her address and phone number! She could have shared that with any of these so called “friends”!!!
I was freaking out!
FREAKING THE HECK OUT!!!
I was nauseous, and I was totally convinced that someone was on their way to abduct my girl! I immediately changed the chat settings to private. Opened every game she had played in the last few days, and read the threads. She did not write anything, and there wasn’t anything in the chats. Still, I was freaking out! She had a ton of friend requests! Who were these players?????? Did she share any information in the past? I had to know right then, or I would not sleep. I woke her and asked her if she shared her address or phone number online. Of course, she said she was confused, it was 2 am by this time. I did not sleep for the rest of the night, steeling myself for the child abductor, who was absolutely on their way.
FINALLY, she woke the next morning and I asked her why she was practicing her address, and did she share it with anyone online? I tried to be nonchalant, so that I wouldn’t scare her, but deep down, I wanted her scared, or at least cautious! She said no, and that she wanted to see her house on Google Earth. I was relieved and then, another concern came over me. She could now SHOW people where we lived!
Please, please, please, grab that device and check the privacy settings, the messages, and chats!
I took some time at that very moment to explain about privacy and information, AND I keep circling back to it. If you have concerns, but don’t what to do, you should visit Common Sense Media to get some helpful hints on how to talk to your little ones about online safety!