My daughter gave out her cell phone number to a stranger she met in a chat room. And talked to “her.”
December 26, 2010 9:34 PM   Subscribe

How can I logically – and without turning into a shrill, emotive, drama queen or a growling mother bear – educate my daughter to the danger she put herself in by giving out her cell phone number to someone she met in a kid's online chat room – and help protect her going forward? (Detail and more questions below!) Useful feedback is welcome with open heart and ears; mocking my parenting decisions just means you want Karma to kick your ass too.

My kids play lots of online games and one of them, we’ll call her Pandora, loves to play on She asked me today to buy her more ‘gems’ as part of her monthly allowance. (This is a recurring purchase for her that I manually add, not allow them to autobill.) My mom-dar goes off because of the slightly-off behavior she’s exhibiting. She denies, of course, but mom-dar is at Defcon 1 and I pursue. An hour later, I find out that she had been befriended by a girl calling herself “Giovanna” and they talked on Christmas evening. (Our house was inundated with family and frivolity so she snuck off undetected to her room.) That conversation was spent talking about getting more gems and “Giovanna”’s upcoming trip to their lake house. (“Giovanna”’s number is a cell phone in New Hampshire.) And then Pandora asked me for her monthly stipend for more gems. After extracting this information, I had a freak out of epic proportions, restricted the internet from the kids entirely, and then started reviewing her phone and text messages (she talked to “Giovanna” at length Christmas evening and I caught this early Sunday morning). Pandora answered several leading questions by “Giovanna” that identify where she is – in terms of city and state (it starts with “what time is it where you are?”) – and what games she likes. Reading through it makes my hair stand on end. At one point in all this, I had this weird feeling that “Giovanna” was hired by to enlist more kids to buy more gems. But the texts don’t support that hypothesis.

So several questions come to mind: (1) how do I scare the bejesus out of Pandora to make this don’t-talk-to-freakin’-strangers-convo stick? She is still of an impressionable age yet has started with that air of Teflon invincibility that nothing ‘bad’ or ‘scary’ will ever happen to her. I want to instill a healthy respect for not talking to someone she doesn’t know – and, honestly: I love my child – but she is such a nice kid that she is 100% likely to give out seemingly innocuous information that would give away information she might want to implicitly conceal. (2) My husband and I are going to call “Giovanna” tomorrow. Should I have run a trace on the number in advance? Do I record the conversation? (3) Do I contact ourworld to ask for the chat logs – if they have them? (4) Do I contact law enforcement? (I'm assuming that I should contact them only if there's something in the logs or the chats.)

We’ve never installed key loggers (am working on that now – recommendations are welcome) but that’s primarily because the computer is in the ‘heart’ of the house. You can’t get into much mischief without a sibling or a parent seeing (and in the case of the sibling, seeing what you’re up to and then telling on you… somewhat gleefully). Plus their access is limited by time of day, I'm home when they're home, and they have time of day restrictions on their phone that work very, very reliably. Lastly, our beta child, the oldest, has navigated these waters without resorting to a nunnery or regressing to caves and landlines. Where we’ve had issues with inappropriate contact/behavior/sites, it’s discussed and doesn’t happen again. Or we discuss it until it’s resolved. With Pandora, she apparently doesn’t feel these rules and discussions apply to her.
posted by lostinsupermarket to Human Relations (41 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I don't think scaring the bejesus out of your kid is the optimal route.

I do think having a sit down talk, so it's clear you're serious and worried, about why you're serious and worried is the right approach.

What you're trying to do is get your kid (you don't say how old, but I'll assume pre-teen) to not share home and contact info with total strangers. And that people on internet sites may not actually be kids or trustworthy.

for what it's worth, the leading questions you describe are what anyone interested in talking with your kid, even another kid, would ask

If you call Giovanna, no, don't record it. Depending on where you are, this may be very illegal. And consider this, what if you get a kid? Are you going to come down blazing on them? No. Unless you have great evidence otherwise, assume Giovanna really is a kid. Then what?

I wouldn't contact law enforcement unless you have better evidence than you've presented here that the person on the other end is an adult and that they knew your kid was a kid.
posted by zippy at 9:47 PM on December 26, 2010 [13 favorites]

Sit Pandora down. In a calm and quiet tone, tell her what your concerns are about her safety. Lay out in as much detail as you can what is and is not allowed to happen via net/text. Remind her that this is all for her personal benefit. Don't exactly scare the bejesus out of her, but do let her know that you think this is serious, and a big enough deal to actually have a talk about it. IIRC, a meeting is almost as daunting as actually being in trouble. I'm not saying that this will fix it with an obstinate child: I'm only saying that anything more will give her the wrong kind of attention.
posted by Gilbert at 9:49 PM on December 26, 2010

I understand not giving your cell phone number out to strangers, but what makes you think Giovanna isn't another kid your daughter's age?
posted by rancidchickn at 9:51 PM on December 26, 2010 [2 favorites]

Instead of keeping your daughter from talking to "strangers" online (a task that is surely doomed to fail from the start), you should have a discussion on what she did right and wrong in this situation, and how she can develop online friendships going forward in a way that will work for everyone. The internet is not only perverts ready to snatch your kids away from you. There are meaningful relationships to be had, and you are in a great position to teach your daughter how to go about developing them. Go bananas and she is going to keep this part of her life totally hidden from you, and that's not what you want.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:56 PM on December 26, 2010 [71 favorites]

Going in with guns blazing like you describe is the best way to royally piss your daughter off at you and set your relationship with her towards rocky ground as she grows into a teenager.

You need to explain to her, calmly and with compassion, that you would be worried about her doing this if it were a person online or a person in real life. That, no matter what, you want her to be safe and that this is a serious topic, like what do in case of a fire or if someone gets hurt or why you should lock your doors. It's a matter of safety, not just of you wanting to control her.

But look. Kids make friends in lots of different ways. My best friend, my roommate, the guy who has saved my life more times than I can really remember, I met him online, in an IRC chatroom. I'm still in touch with a group of these people, and at this point a lot of them have paired up and gotten married, and there's a 3rd child of the group on the way this spring! I had my first kiss from someone I met online, and it was SO much better than if it had been some yucky guy I'd have had to see every day in school, you know?

It's about an equality of information. If someone knows your phone number, you need to know theirs. If someone knows your address, you need to know theirs. Arm your daughter with knowledge and respect, and trust her to come to you if she has any questions or needs any help. Don't make online friendships into a furtive, secretive act that she can't talk to you about because you're going to go off on her about them. Let her know that you're going to be keeping an eye on her online friendships, just like you make sure the kids she knows IRL are good apples, you know?
posted by Mizu at 10:05 PM on December 26, 2010 [17 favorites]

We don't know how old Pandora is, but I will say this.

I was in junior high in the long ago era of the BBS. My brother and I figured out how to use our modem to access various BBS's (in our area? don't remember the specifics here). I was a trekkie, so I spent a lot of time on a Star Trek bulletin board. I was also having a horrible time in school, completely isolated, depressed, and generally feeling like I was absolutely alone in the world. So I befriended various trekkies via the BBS.

Then my parents got the phone bill. The modem was removed from the computer, and my brother and I had our allotted computer time drastically restricted.

A few weeks later I got a phone call from an adult.

It was one of the trekkies I'd been confiding in, making sure I was OK. Since I'd been severely depressed and suddenly stopped signing on, she was worried about me. After hearing what happened, she understood and said a few encouraging parting words. We never spoke again, but I've never forgotten that moment. In certain ways, it helped to save my life.

TL;DR - I wouldn't assume that all contact between your daughter and people online is negative. Arm her with the skills to take care of herself, surely, but remember that not everyone is a monster.
posted by Sara C. at 10:09 PM on December 26, 2010 [58 favorites]

I would start by explaining how and why you think she put herself in danger by giving her cell phone number to someone she met on the internet. (Like rancidchickn, I also question why you're so sure this isn't in fact another kid her age--they spoke on the phone... wouldn't the voice give it away if this was actually a middle-aged dude?)

Maybe the problem is that I'm not a parent, but I really don't get what is so dangerous about handing out a cell phone number. Giovanna... might be able to call and text her? And I am an adult, so if the risk here isn't obvious to me, it's likely also not obvious to Pandora.

"I live at 123 XYZ Street in New City, State" is more dangerous information, and if it's a small place, maybe even just naming New City is risky. Tell her that she doesn't know this person and that it's not prudent to tell this person, who could be dangerous, where she lives. If you actually have a reason for thinking a cell phone number is dangerous information, again, explain that to your daughter, too. On the other hand, if you don't have a reason for thinking that's dangerous and you're just freaking out, your daughter's BS detector (equivalent to your mom-dar) is likely to go off.
posted by J. Wilson at 10:10 PM on December 26, 2010

Maybe the problem is that I'm not a parent, but I really don't get what is so dangerous about handing out a cell phone number. Giovanna... might be able to call and text her? And I am an adult, so if the risk here isn't obvious to me, it's likely also not obvious to Pandora.

Ditto. If you're worried there could be a way to get the address from the phone number, perhaps a Google Voice number could be set up just for texting online friends? You could set them up to forward to her phone, and there would still be a copy online in the account, in case you ever want to look at them.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:15 PM on December 26, 2010 [5 favorites]

Disclaimer: I don't have kids. I'm basing my answer on what I think would have worked on me when I was a kid.

If Pandora has an "air of Teflon invincibility," then trying to "scare the bejesus" out of her may just make her feel more alienated from you and your point of view—the more dramatic you get, the more she may feel like "Mom is flipping out over nothing." She doesn't want to be told that she's a vulnerable child whose instincts for what's safe and what's dangerous cannot yet be trusted; she wants to feel independent.

You might be on firmer footing if you approach this in terms of your right to protect your home, your privacy, and your family. I understand that you're upset because Pandora revealed her location and cell phone number to a "stranger" (who doesn't seem so strange to Pandora), but you might put it to her that she revealed to Giovanna a lot of information that also "belongs" to other members of the family. I suspect Pandora might be more open to you laying down the law that for the protection of the whole family, nobody in the family should reveal your location to individuals whom you meet online.

You could also ask in a non-accusatory way, perhaps including Pandora's siblings in the discussion, what kind of personal information she/they think(s) is OK to reveal online and in what context. How do you decide? What makes the difference between ordering something from Amazon, where you routinely give your real name and address, and chatting with someone you meet on (You should have good answers for these questions, too.) Do the kids think the parents have more freedom online? Do they think it makes sense for the adults in the household to have that freedom, but not the kids? Can they reason through why you put certain restrictions in place? Do they understand that you also put "restrictions" on yourself? (For example, I notice that your MeFi profile does not reveal much.) I think you should not just try to scare them about "stranger danger" but also talk about protecting one's personal information as a general life skill: adults have been victimized by 419 scams, swindled by people they met on dating sites, and disqualified themselves for jobs because of personal information that they revealed on the web or in private email / chat / text conversations.

You might also try to think beyond Pandora's heedlessness and consider her motivations. Why do you think she was receptive to Giovanna's overtures? She probably wasn't thinking "I'm going to sneak off to my room, defy Mom, and make myself pedo bait." She was probably getting something she craved from Giovanna: friendship, affirmation, admiration, a confidante, the pleasure of building a social relationship independently from her family? I can only fling out wild guesses. You know your daughter better. Can you empathize with her? What do you think would be a more appropriate way for her to satisfy her emotional needs? What if what you think is appropriate isn't working for her—for example, (just hypothetically) what if she doesn't feel safe with her school friends because they teased her or betrayed her secrets? Giovanna might feel safer to Pandora.

If the connection with Giovanna seems important to Pandora, can you imagine any circumstances under which you would allow it to go forward? What if you had a five-minute video chat with Giovanna and her parents, for example? What are your criteria for evaluating the safety of a new social connection?
posted by Orinda at 11:11 PM on December 26, 2010 [12 favorites]

I love how you trust random strangers on the Internet to teach you how to impress on your daughter that trusting random strangers on the Internet is DANGEROUS!!!

I wouldn't be worried about the "gave out some info" aspect of this at all, what is a bit off is the "didn't tell you about new online friend" aspect, and that is probably adequately explained by the fact that your kid knew you'd overreact. Working on that might be a better idea.
posted by themel at 12:23 AM on December 27, 2010 [19 favorites]

I get why you're upset. Really, I do. The internet is scary, especially for your kids. Note: I don't have kids. But just to add another data point: I, too, found solace in being a little out of place at my high school on the Internet, and I made internet friends, and we talked a lot, and I occasionally called them on the phone, and we wrote letters back and forth. And I have no idea to what extent my mother knew about this, but she must have known something. Either way, it wasn't completely safe, but I'd say the chances that something nefarious is going on is much less than something normal and age-appropriate. Keep a close eye on it, make sure you know what is going on, and most importantly: ask questions. Becaus I know the one thing my mom did right was to ask questions about my "Internet friends."

As for personal information: I, too, dont really see what's so terribly horrible about handing out her cell number, unless there is information you can gain from that I don't know about. This is definitely a good time to sit down with Pandora and have a talk about what is and is not appropriate information to reveal over the Internet.

Hang in there. This is a tricky time to raise a child on the internet as the standards of acceptability for meeting people over the Internet is changing. It's much more common now but that doesnt mean there aren't traps and pitfalls just keep a close eye on it and make your standards clear.
posted by good day merlock at 12:59 AM on December 27, 2010

Like others in this thread, I'd like to gently point out that from where I'm sitting, it sounds like you are hugely overreacting. I understand that you're scared, but take a step back for a minute, if you can.

Scaring the bejesus out of your child isn't the way to go here, in my opinion. It seems to have been the methodology of choice for the parents of Gen Y, and--in my opinion, anyhow--it was a total failure. I learned quickly that one, my parents didn't understand technology nearly as well as my twelve-year-old self did, and two, any thoughts or opinions that I had on the subject would be ignored, because They Knew Better. I got very good, very quickly, at hiding what I was doing and at lying to them about it. This is presumably not the path you want to go down with your child.

Your immediate reaction--that Giovanna is someone to be alarmed about, at least, and quite possibly flat-out distrusted--doesn't make sense to me. This sounds pretty crazy, but most people on the internet are, in fact, more or less who they say they are. In all likelihood--especially given the total lack of ass-covering that they've exhibited--Giovanna's another kid who was feeling bored and lonely.

Also, your feelings--that the "don't talk to strangers" thing needs to stick--and your actions--allowing her access to an unmoderated, presumably public chat room--are contradictory. Don't talk to strangers, unless they're online in this chat room, but then you can't talk to them in person or on the phone, because they might not be safe? Who counts as a stranger? If Pandora had been talking to Giovanna online for a month, are they still strangers? What about the kid she met one time at her sister's softball game and exchanged phone numbers with? Is that kid a stranger? New kid at her school--stranger, or not? What counts as "talking to" a stranger? Obviously not a public chat room, but what about PMing someone in that chat room? Text messages? IM? Phone conversations obviously cross a line for you, but where's that line? You need to figure this out for yourself before you take her to task for it, because from your question, it sounds like your feelings on strangers are fairly ill-defined and inconsistent.

Don't call Giovanna. Don't call law enforcement. Don't contact the chat site and ask for logs. Talk to your daughter. Apologize for overreacting. (I know it's going to grate, I do, but it starts the conversation by putting her off the defensive, which is super important if you want to be able to have an actual conversation.) Explain that you freaked out and knee-jerk reacted instead of talking to her about it, and you were wrong to do so. Ask her questions and listen to her answers to them without telling her why she's wrong about [trusting people online, personal information disclosure, whatever]. And then if you still feel that she was in the wrong, tell her that--you feel that she's crossed a line, and she needs to not do it again. If you're still wary of giving out cell phone numbers, I think that The Pink Superhero struck the best solution--give her a Google Voice account and let her phone and text people on that. Cutting her off entirely might have the short-term effect that you want, but I doubt very much that it will be productive or effective in the long term.
posted by MeghanC at 1:02 AM on December 27, 2010 [9 favorites]

I assume you have some sort of system for safely making friends already, that you can probably adapt for this situation. For example, what would you do if she met some one on a bus or at the play ground? You would probably insist on meeting the friend and her parents, yes? It's essentially the same, except that you also have to ensure that Giovanna is also who she says she is. Could you chat to her and ask to speak to her parents? Could you exchange photos? Is she close enough for you all to visit her?

Explain why your so freaked out, but do go into this assuming the best. There is a tiny chance that this could be a disaster for your daughter, but it could also be a lovely new friend for her. Either way, it's best you are involved, and the best way to stay involved is not to become the enemy.
posted by kjs4 at 2:56 AM on December 27, 2010

I grew up before the Internet age so didn't really have that problem. By the time I went online I was 18 or 19. I still met up with people I found in chatrooms (making sure we met in a public place etc), and I wonder how my mum would've reacted to that if she'd had any clue what the Internet was, and what I was doing.

But I will tell you another story from my childhood. When I was... I dunno, 10? 11? I got anonymous notes in my letterbox giving me instructions to go somewhere and find something. That something turned out to be scrapbooks of porn with my name pasted next to the girls. I found this terribly intriguing of course, and wanted to find out where it came from. I suspected 1 or 2 boys from my school. When my mum found out about this, she very categorically said "I DO NOT WANT YOU EVER TO FOLLOW THOSE DIRECTIONS AND FIND PORN AGAIN, DO YOU UNDERSTAND??" She didn't explain why, and I assumed it was because she didn't want me to see porn, you know? So the next time I got directions, of course I went again. My mum found out again and I got a good slapping (and my mum didn't often raise her hand against me). Didn't go again after that.

Now what if my mum had just explained why she didn't want me to go there, and what the dangers involved were? What if she'd said "you know, it's much more likely that someone who has access to porn magazines is older, and this person could wish harm to you, and luring you somewhere isolated is an ideal setting for that?" Hell, even telling me "he could be sitting in the bushes wanking while you find it" would've probably been enough to put me off.

I don't have kids, and some people may advise against this, but what about finding some news stories of people who did pretend to be someone they weren't, to show her that yes this does exist and it's not all just malarkey made up by hysterical parents? And give her concrete rules to work with in these situations, i.e. "no location, no full names, nothing identifying like your school" etc. It's not realistic to expect her to never talk to anyone ever, and as people have said above, the majority of people you meet online are genuine, and she may be missing out on some great experiences if you isolate her from that. I would be a completely, COMPLETELY different person if it weren't for the Internet.
posted by ClarissaWAM at 4:23 AM on December 27, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'm another person who had pretty serious online friendships during my teen years, starting around 13. I talked on the phone with lots of people and I was happy to say what town I was from. I also asked most people what city and state they were from -- that wasn't some evil plot on my part, but instead just one of the standard getting-to-know-you questions you ask everyone on the internet. (I never ever would have given out my home address, though. That definitely would be inappropriate.) My mom was not pleased about this.

I'm nthing that, if you go the "scorched earth" route, you'll just push your daughter away from you. Of course she's going to think she's taking every necessary precaution--she's human, and humans are pretty cocky creatures. Of course she has greater reason to feel trusting of Giovanna--she's actually communicated with this person. From your daughter's point of view, you just don't know what you're talking about. You try to say to your daughter, "This Giovanna person could be a child-murderer!" And your daughter may very well roll her eyes and think, "But I know she isn't!"

So don't put this in terms of what your daughter doesn't know--keep it clearly in terms about what you don't know. "I understand that you feel safe talking to this person, but I don't. When you make friends at school, there is certain information I have about them from the start, I know how to contact their parents, I usually meet them, and I generally know when you're hanging out with them. But, when you meet someone online, I don't know anything about them, and this makes me very nervous. It's my job to make sure nothing horrible happens to you, and so I have to have a certain amount of information about your friends that I cannot get about people online. Even if you think I'm completely wrong and paranoid, I still need you to behave in a way that allows me to feel secure about you. Even if I'm the biggest idiot for having these requirements, these still are my requirements because this is what I need to feel safe."

This, by the way, is more or less what my mother said to me.

This explains really what the issue is: you don't know the internet people, so you don't want her talking to them. But it puts it in terms she can't refute: no matter how safe she might feel about someone, that changes nothing about what you know about them. It also allows you to concede something she will likely refuse to accept could be false (that she has good judgment about who to talk to and this Giovanna person may very well just be another kid) without losing the main point (you don't want her talking to people you don't know).

Really, my point is: pick your battles. You seem to want two things here, first to convince your daughter that she is wrong about who's online, and second to get her to behave in a safer way online. You may very well not have the ability to do the first. But you don't need to prove that first point to prove the second.
posted by meese at 5:40 AM on December 27, 2010 [3 favorites]

You don't tell us how old Pandora is. What's safe and controllable with a 10 year old is quite different than with a 12 or 15 year old - I'm assuming she's at the younger side. With my kids we've focused on teaching them how to make sensible choices about how much information to reveal and why one needs to limit what one shares with new friends on the net. As many people have said in this thread kids (and adults!) can make deep, real friendships in online settings. My high school age kids have friendships that started in the context of games or online boards that have grown to be important parts of their lives. Shoot, I think there are plenty of adults on Mefi who have built real-world relationships from here.

So to me the issue is not how to impress upon your daughter that revealing any information about herself online is dangerous but rather to teach her how to learn and judge this. You'll also have to realize that it will change over time as she gets older and that you won't be able to control it sooner than you expect. At that point having taught Pandora how to be safe is crucial -after all, you won't be able to watch her every moment in the real world either. I agree with those who have pointed out that it's better to not freak out your kid in ways that will encourage her to not talk to you. You can do more to help her navigate these issues if you have honest dialogues than if she figures her best bet is to just hide stuff from you to avoid parental freak-outs.
posted by leslies at 6:14 AM on December 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

kjs4 is right, I think.

Have you considered speaking to Giovanna's parents? To Giovanna?

Doing so might help you get some sort of realistic understanding about the current situation, which might help you relax and move forward in a more constructive manner without freaking out.

When you speak to your daughter, it is almost certainly better to inform her rather than scare her. Is she old enough to know what sex is? Rape? Murder? Kidnapping? Don't intentionally freak her out, but if those concepts are in her toolbox and she hasn't connected them to on and off line strangers, gently connect the dots for her.

But keep perspective. She is far more likely to be harmed by friends and family members than a stranger. It's not a comforting thought, but there you go. Reality isn't always comforting. This is almost certainly nothing but two lonely kids who met playing a game together.

Instead of trying to frighten her, you may want to stress what are good behaviors and what are bad behaviors. Don't tell anyone your address. If someone wants to talk about your body in a strange way, tell the parental units ASAP. If you want to give someone your phone number, ask the parental units for permission. And so on.

The important thing with this is that you will never be kept informed if your kid thinks you will always shoot down everything. Why bother asking you if she can call her internet friend if she knows you'll never agree? She'll just go behind your back and do it. You know, like what happened. It's possible that this instance demonstrates that your kid had an accurate reading on how you were likely to react, and therefore decided to cut you from the loop.

So be open to the new way things work. Not too open, but open enough that your daughter can actually trust you. This is a pattern you'll want to establish now, since it's pretty much the least-horrible way to deal with her growing up and becoming her own person anyway.
posted by jsturgill at 6:39 AM on December 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh, one more point: you likely want to avoid doing anything that will make your daughter hide her internet friendships from you in the future.

A good analogy may be drinking. You can tell your kids, "Drinking is bad! And harmful! And dangerous! DON'T DRINK!!!!" but that alone will never be enough to keep them from drinking. All it may very well do is make them so scared of getting in trouble from drinking that, if they find themselves in a dangerous situation, they won't call you for help. Instead, while it's vitally important to teach your kid about the dangers of alcohol, it's also vitally important to make your kids understand that, no matter what, you're there to help them.

Suppose your daughter ignores your warnings and keeps interacting with strangers online--that's what I did, and nothing my mom could have done would ever have stopped me. Now suppose someone starts bothering her, online-stalking her, sending her creepy e-mails, and so on, to the point that she, even, is scared of this person... What would you want her to do under those conditions?
posted by meese at 6:45 AM on December 27, 2010 [3 favorites]

I was very active in the pre-Internet computer chat scene between 7th grade and the end of high school. I met dozens and dozens of people both one-on-one and at meet-ups. Some of those people are still very good friends. Of all the young women I knew at the time, none of them were assaulted by pedophiles, many met boyfriends, a couple ended up marrying quite happily. Some met slightly older boys just like would have happened in high school anyway.

Two of my friends at the time have died in the intervening years in car accidents.

That is to say, computers are not nearly as scary as you are making them out to be. You've created the plot to an episode of Law and Order: SVU out of a budding friendship (friendships are awesome and worth celebrating!) and you've ensured that your children will not trust you due to the spying. Why talk openly when it will just go into your mom's mental criminal dossier? And you sure wouldn't want to form a bond with your tattling siblings where otherwise one of them might talk to you about good and bad ideas.

My mom wasn't computer savvy but she did spy a lot on my brother and would invent paranoid dangers that we should be wary of and shared them all the time. My brother still got in serious trouble. I got social anxiety disorder and therapy. Nevertheless, we eventually both turned out alright in the long run. For me it took a lot of work.

Another option: read about active listening and practice it. Ask your kid about their day, everyday, and their games and friends regularly and don't accept one word answers.
posted by Skwirl at 7:20 AM on December 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have two daughters, 16 and 20. I have negotiated these waters. My oldest was eager to talk to strangers online and had a scary episode that we stopped before things got ugly, so we learned our lessons early and consequently have had no problems with our 16 year old.

First of all, ignore all of the people in this thread who have no children. Second, follow your gut. If you have alarm bells going off, pay attention and follow through. If we had not followed through with our suspicions about our daughter's online friendship, it could have had a very bad outcome (middle aged man posing as a 15 year old boy online).

Here are the rules that we established after our daughter's episode: Until your child reaches xx age (that number is up to you, we said 18), you have passwords to all of their accounts on social networking sites. You can easily check to see via your router which sites she is using. No communication - EVER - with someone your child does not know. No participation in chat rooms. No friending strangers on Facebook.

There are people who will read this and say that these steps are way too draconian, you're asking for trouble, etc. I would have been one of those parents 5 years ago. But after our episode, and talking to the internet safety officer at the local police station, we had no hesitation implementing these steps. If you doubt this, call your local police and ask to speak to someone in a similar job, and hear some the stories that may have happened in your community. Better yet, ask at her school if there is a resource officer who can talk to your daughter about online safety. This was the way it was put to us when we hesitated: would you drop your daughter off in a strange city and tell her that it's okay to talk and trust whomever she meets?

I would have no hesitation calling Giovanna's phone.
posted by Flakypastry at 7:26 AM on December 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

(2) My husband and I are going to call “Giovanna” tomorrow. Should I have run a trace on the number in advance? Do I record the conversation? (3) Do I contact ourworld to ask for the chat logs – if they have them? (4) Do I contact law enforcement? (I'm assuming that I should contact them only if there's something in the logs or the chats.)

All of this is crazy. I actually think you should probably take a harder line than most of the other posters here do*, but these options do nothing to solve the problem whatsoever and will (somewhat rightfully) make your daughter ignore the rest of your points. If Giovanna actually is a child, by the way, that means two creepy and upset adults will be calling her out of the blue- which would be much greater cause for her parents to freak out than you have. Do not, do not, do this.

Also, while you don't trust your daughter not to give out sensitive information, the account you give indicates that she has not done so. State and town are not, in fact, dangerous things to give out. Much more worrysome would be last name, what school she goes to, address and things of that nature. Does your daughter understand those things would be dangerous, or has she simply not had the chance to reveal that yet? Only a calm, rational converstation where you ask, not assume, what your daughter was thinking will let you know how big a deal this is.

restricted the internet from the kids entirely

Furthermore, why are your resticting the internet from all your kids, rather than just Pandora? I ask, because this red alert hyperventilating is exactly the sort of thing that proves to kids that parents' concerns have no merit and that you guys just freak out all that time and can be safely ignored.

If you calmly explained that Pandora broke the rules, and why those rules are important and then punished her and only her, your kids would see a consistent and logical system in place. They would understand that you have expectations, and it's actually possible to have fun within the safe limits you have established. Which means they won't just do whatever they want when you're not looking.

This doesn't have to be a crisis. Calmly talk to Pandora, explain the rules, why they are important and ban her from the internet for a month or two. Do not punish the rest of the kids. Do not do something stupid like call Giovanna, the police or record the conversations. (Which is possibly illegal, depending on your state.)

*Depending on your child's age. If she's 11, I'd be worried. If she's 16, get over it.
posted by spaltavian at 7:36 AM on December 27, 2010 [5 favorites]

Another introverted child who grew up chatting with people in chat rooms here, and I'm happy to say that none of those strangers who eventually turned into some of my closest friends were pedophiles. I agree with most of the advice given above; this may not be as huge of a situation as you're conflating it to be, although I certainly understand your worries (he news cycle has trained us all to be overly-wary about INTERNET THREATS). Children are a lot more canny about detecting potential nasty situations than adults give them credit for: I started hanging out on IRC and chatting on Yahoo! Clubs message-boards (oh, the nostalgia) when I was 12, and I knew to immediately shut down those conversations that made me feel uncomfortable. Kids raised with the Internet have a sixth sense about when they're talking to a child or if they're chatting with an adult impersonating one, which is why I'm assuming that Pandora felt comfortable sharing her phone number with Giovanna.

That preamble aside, I never would have given out my phone number to anyone on the internet, regardless of how safe I felt speaking with them. That's a line that I have difficulties crossing even today, which gets in the way of online dating. :) There are numerous ways to voice-chat without having to exchange phone numbers. Google Voice is a great suggestion. If you have a webcam or microphone attached with your computer, what about starting up a Skype or Google Talk account for them to chat? Both are free for voice chat with video, and maybe being able to see Giovanna would assuage some of your fears. Pandora will sacrifice a bit of privacy when they're talking, but it might be enough of a compromise to keep you both happy.
posted by Maya Cecile at 7:42 AM on December 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

If we had not followed through with our suspicions about our daughter's online friendship, it could have had a very bad outcome (middle aged man posing as a 15 year old boy online).

There certainly can be bad outcomes, but there's no reason to assume every encounter is of the same nature. The particular example in question here is much less likely to be a middle aged pedophile since this person is interested in a phone conversation, not meeting up in some secluded place... It shouldn't be that difficult to tell whether someone is a young girl or an adult man on the phone, and especially these days, it is entirely within possibility that a young girl would be online making friends. (I think the predator paranoia dates to a time when 90% of the people using the internet were middle aged men, so the few precocious children who did use it were in more strange territory...)

Anyway, if you want to be sure, why not just request that everyone meet over google video/skype first? I would suggest it in a way that allows for the possibility that it is a normal kid. If it is a creep, they'll make some excuse and disappear, and if it's a regular kid, you can get a sense of them and their family - and vice versa - before the two girls start influencing each other too much :)...
posted by mdn at 7:58 AM on December 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

I hadn't really considered it, but yes, why not a group video chat with everyone, adults and all? They look normal, you look normal, there is zero danger for anybody, everyone walks away happy and your kid has a new penpal. Maybe your two families can go on vacation together next year, if they're still friends. Disaster averted, happiness ensues.

One thing I forgot to mention: Giovanni is an almost self-consciously upper class name. Your daughter's new friend may be changing things around a little bit on the Internets; instead of being slightly wealthy with a vacation home by a lake, in reality they may be slightly poor and vacation at the local bowling alley. This possibility is probably what's setting off your alarm bells, aside from those episodes of To Catch a Predator. Doesn't mean she's a bad kid, or that your child's in danger. But it does mean this could be an even more excellent Learning Moment for everyone.
posted by jsturgill at 8:07 AM on December 27, 2010 [2 favorites]

I was chatting online by the late 1980s (early-mid elementary school) and my first boyfriend was someone I met online. I don't have kids, but I do have four (much) younger siblings.

There is absolutely a middle, sane ground here, that does include knowing your kid's friends but does not include key logging software. If you turn the internet into the Forbidden Zone, I promise you your kids will find ways of getting to it completely outside your control.

And please don't punish the rest of your kids. Come on. Adults only do that when they feel they have no control or are blinded by emotion, and all it gets you are very angry kids who don't trust you. This was not a conspiracy, this was one kid breaking the rules.

(I am tentatively in favor of you talking to this Giavanna, provided your daughter has a chance to warn her and invite her parents to the conversation. If she's under 16 or so, I'd even support making your ability to talk to her parents a precondition of her ability to talk with Giavanna anymore.)
posted by SMPA at 8:18 AM on December 27, 2010

First of all, ignore all of the people in this thread who have no children is not useful advice and the non-parents are owed an apology. There are many insights here from people young enough to've been on-line during their own youth, and those perspectives are quite helpful.

I don't have a lot of other advice because even though I have read your question over and over, I still can't make sense of it. Your hair stood on end over: what games do you like? You "had a freak out of epic proportions, restricted the internet from the kids entirely" and want to "scare the bejesus out of" her, are wondering about calling the police because ?, while wanting to avoid being a "drama queen." Because...innocuous conversation? This stuff is pretty hard to follow for another adult, which makes it reasonable to assume that your kids will have already retreated to don't-trust-Mom-land. I would start by apologising to them for over-reacting.
posted by kmennie at 9:06 AM on December 27, 2010 [7 favorites]

Something to consider would be a rule that if your daughter wants to talk by phone with an online friend, you follow the same policy as you would if your daughter wanted to talk by phone with a new friend she met in person whose family you didn't know: you talk to the parents. That is, if Pandora wants to give her cell number to a new online friend, she tells her online friend, "My mom would like to 'meet' your parents. Can you have your mom call her on her cell phone, ###-###-####?"--if the friend agrees, you chat with the parents and lay ground rules together; if the friend resists, that's a flag that she's not someone your kid should be getting close to (either because she's pressuring Pandora to disobey her parents or because she might not be who she says she is).

I also think jsturgill's point is really important: statistically, your daughter is much more likely to be harmed by a friend, acquaintance, or relative than by a stranger. So while it's important to protect her from the most obvious dangers (monitor which chat rooms she's visiting even if you don't read her chats, talk to her about the kinds of people she's meeting and conversations she's having, make sure she understands what is and isn't an appropriate conversation topic), it's even more important to give her the tools she needs to evaluate and reason about all of the social experiences she's having, online and in real life, even with people who seem nice or who everyone likes or whose parents are friends with her parents. It's dangerous to separate "bad people" into their own, avoidable category--as if we are safe as long as we don't meet the wrong person online or find ourselves alone in a dark alley. Most of the online bullying and harassment in the news tends to be between kids who know each other in person and most physical or sexual abuse is perpetrated by someone known by the victim.
posted by Meg_Murry at 9:09 AM on December 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

I actually see very valid reason for concern, but I agree the OP went too far in terms of trying to convey that concern to her daughter. I agree the daughter is likely to get the opposite message - that ignoring parents is OK because parents are unreasonable!

OP, I'm here to tell you that the reason your daughter thinks the rules "don't apply" is because she's smart, probably smarter than your other kids. She might even be smarter than you, despite the fact that she has less life experience right now. OP, you do know the difference between intelligence and life experience - right??

Your daughter is seeing this (and maybe other conflicts?) as a challenge of her intelligence, when really, it is about life experience!

You will get your daughter to understand this very valid concern once you approach her from a place of RESPECT, not dominance.

Good luck.
posted by jbenben at 9:31 AM on December 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

When I was 11 or so and chat rooms were new, I was chatting with some guy and he asked me for my phone number. Being naive and 11, I gave it to him. So then he called me. But I didn't really want to talk to him, and he kept calling.

So I got my father to talk to him on the phone and tell him to stop calling.

I still remember the episode clearly, and I'm grateful that he was willing to intervene. He didn't give me any sort of hard time about it. I didn't get in trouble. I did learn that giving out my phone number wasn't maybe such a hot idea.

I would hate to think that by your actions you are putting Pandora in a situation where she would not feel comfortable coming to you for advice or help if she gets in over her head, for fear of getting in trouble or getting all her internet taken away.

If I were in this situation, I think I would sit her down and say sorry I wigged out, but you should undestand that there are old men who pretend to be girls who try to steal stuff from kids (or insert whatever it is you're afraid of happening, here---I'm not totally clear). And then have that conversation, and then let her make the call, and ask her about Giovanna, etc. But let her make the friend, and stay involved without wigging out.
posted by leahwrenn at 10:04 AM on December 27, 2010 [7 favorites]

You likely want to avoid doing anything that will make your daughter hide her internet friendships from you in the future.

Nthing this.

My mother freaked out over the smallest little thing.

Rule: I wasn't allowed to read any books with witches or magic.
Result: When I was 7, I read the illustrated Edgar Allen Poe (horror) at school during my lunchbreak, and had nightmares. But my mother thought the nightmares were from watching (innocuous kids show) The Famous Five, so banned me from that... and was puzzled when the nightmares continued.

When I was 17, I wanted to travel to a city 2,128 miles away (3,425 km) to attend a political conference.

I had saved up money from a part time job for the airfare and accomodation, and I would have been going with a large group of political 16-21 year olds. I was also a very straight-edge kid, with absolutely no interest in alcohol or drugs.

Nonetheless, I knew that if I asked my mother if I could go, it would have been "No way!"

Result: I booked the airfare in secret, and the whole 7 days that I was on the other side of the country, staying in a youth hostel, my mother thought that I was camping with friends a 2 to 3 hour drive from home. I didn't even tell my favourite aunt (who lived in the city that I was visiting) that I was in town, in case she told my mother.

The point that I am trying to make here is that over-protecting kids actually makes them less safe... because they will just hide things and lie, and you won't understand what is going on.
posted by Hot buttered sockpuppets at 10:38 AM on December 27, 2010 [12 favorites]

I agree that it would behoove OP not to go nuclear in order to avoid stealth and secrecy on her daughter's part as a reaction, but I'm very much surprised that so many don't see why giving out her cell phone number to strangers could be dangerous. If somebody with bad intentions has her number, they have nearly unlimited access to try to convince her to meet somewhere. They also have access to call and say something like "your parents were in a terrible accident and you will be picked up to go to the hospital." Or bad person could make threats about hurting her family if she doesn't do XYZ. All on the privacy of her personal phone. And it's not at all outside the realm of possibility that people with bad intentions have children under their control or influence — their own children or stepchildren, for example, to make initial contact. (Oh, this looks like a fun game; I'll buy you gems, and you can play. She seems nice -- why not get her phone number? etc.)

I'm not even a mother, and that's the kind of stuff that I can imagine without even really spending any thought on it. But because the internet and cell phones are here to stay, and access to them will not be limited only to the home, parents probably need to be careful and wise about how to approach this kind of problem. Partnering with your kids to talk about some of these scenarios and setting up safe responses and reactions to various things ("fire drills" let's say) is probably a very good thing. I'd try to get them as fully involved and aware of the safety aspects as possible, and work towards a respectful "team" situation as one major approach (along with keeping track of what goes on, alert and aware). You want your kid to already be prepared in case the time ever does come when they are faced with a potentially dangerous situation in spite of safeguards.
posted by taz at 10:54 AM on December 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

As yet another now-30-something child of the early Internet who'd dial in to BBSs in secret (muffling the beeping, singing modem with my pillow), and later logging on to IRC, I too would say you have more reason to be calm than to be worried — note that I am saying you do have some reason to be worried. Unlike other posters who seem to have had mainly good experiences, alongside my good, I also had bad.

But here's the key thing: I could not trust my parents with the bad. I never talked to them about it, because I knew they'd go ballistic. Hot buttered sockpuppets and I seem to have grown up in similar families! In mine, straight-A-student bookworm me was forbidden from reading "satanic books." This meant anything with, for instance, the devil or crimes in it. I had books pulled from my hands and thrown away if they were under suspicion. Well, by age 11 I had taken to Dostoyevsky, was a bit of a smart-ass, and asked my parents for "The Brothers Karamazov" and/or "Crime and Punishment" as a gift (Christmas, I think). They did. The devil himself figures in Karamazov (part of a nightmare), and Crime and Punishment is about a murderer. I couldn't take their reading prohibitions seriously after that. (But did I ever love Dostoyevsky's writing... wow.)

Age 16, I'd started corresponding with a French guy on IRC, and at age 18, wanted to go meet him. Now, if I'd been able to discuss it with my parents, I'd have asked someone to chaperone me. I did not feel comfortable going alone to meet someone I didn't know in real life. As it was, my parents had freaked out over me being whistled at by guys in the street to the point where they called me... very bad names. I'd never even had a boyfriend, much less touched a man. But after seeing me whistled at, they forbade me from dating, from speaking with men outside school or church, and from going anywhere but school with my car, which they controlled by not giving me enough gas money to even get to school (I ran out of gas on the way there a couple times before they believed me, but not without them freaking on me about supposedly being a liar). At least, they let me have after school and summer jobs once I was 17.

I saved up enough in secret to by a super-cheap plane ticket to France and back, to meet the guy from IRC. Alone. In a foreign country. Without telling anyone. I only told my parents a week before I left, since, well, I planned to be gone 3 weeks. Kinda hard to hide that. Obviously they freaked, did their best to stop me. It didn't work. I'd planned for their outbursts.

So, yeah, don't try to scare her into submission. Fear tactics do not work, they backfire immensely, as many others have said. I'd have loved to have been able to confide in and trust my parents; as it is, I'm still paying for the lack of social acuity that their paranoia and overreaction left me with. Be someone safe she can go to for advice, and, god forbid she ever need it, protection. By being poised, careful and mature, you model behavior for her later in life too.
posted by fraula at 2:46 PM on December 27, 2010 [2 favorites]

If somebody with bad intentions has her number, they have nearly unlimited access to try to convince her to meet somewhere.

It would certainly be worth making sure the kid knows not to go meet people without telling her parents.

They also have access to call and say something like "your parents were in a terrible accident and you will be picked up to go to the hospital."

Why would they do this over the phone? They'd run the risk of calling when the kid was right there with her parents, for instance. It would be much easier to just show up at a school and find a kid and tell them that then to go through the trouble of getting a cell number to try to set up that sort of thing.

Or bad person could make threats about hurting her family if she doesn't do XYZ. All on the privacy of her personal phone.

again, certainly worth making sure a kid knows she can tell her parents if someone says something bad to them. But again, there is no reason this is more dangerous over the phone than on the street.

And it's not at all outside the realm of possibility that people with bad intentions have children under their control or influence — their own children or stepchildren, for example, to make initial contact.

If they have kids they can control or influence, then they already have what they want. It seems unlikely they'd use those kids to gain control of other kids, since that is a very big risk that they'd be found out for the small possibility that they'd be successful in getting to another victim. You'd have to be dealing with a really obsessive serial pedophile for that to be the tactic.

Basically, yes, it's possible to come up with scenarios which are worrisome, but it is far more likely that your child will be harmed by an uncle or a teacher or family friend than some unknown creep on the internet. These things are much more likely to happen because some kind of opportunity arises and someone near your kid has a bad impulse which he doesn't check, than because an evil creep comes up with a complex scheme.

None of that is to say you shouldn't be careful or have certain rules - like agreeing to meet over google video before exchanging further personal information - but you don't have to begin with the assumption that everyone's out to get your kid, especially since if you're consistent in that assumption, there are plenty of mundane places that are statistically scarier than the internet.
posted by mdn at 3:16 PM on December 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks all for your responses. Pandora is 11 and a very gregarious, outgoing child while her parents are the introverted geeks, hanging out in BBS rooms of yore.

What I stated as my reactions were all the reactions in my head - not the discussions I had with her. When I have talked with her about this, it's all been with leading questions. I don't want to put words in her mouth or let her feed off anything I feel. I'm of the 'teach your kids to fish' philosophy.

And mock me all you want for posting this on the internet but I figured I would get a more rounded response than by talking to my children's friend's parents; a great majority would have a 'clamp down' reaction and that just isn't my parenting style.

Again, I appreciate all the responses.
posted by lostinsupermarket at 3:18 PM on December 27, 2010 [2 favorites]

Making friends online is fine and shouldn't be discouraged. What's important is that your daughter learn to develop her OWN good sense about who is or isn't safe to befriend online, because it's impossible for you to monitor everything she does, and your overreaction to this incident has probably permanently damaged her willingness to go to you for advice.

Since you've probably blown your credibility with her at this point (especially if Giovanna really is just another kid), perhaps you should bring in a third source of information, like sit down together and watch those "To Catch a Predator" shows. That will help show her that not everyone on the internet is who they say they are, and some might mean her harm.
posted by Jacqueline at 6:59 PM on December 27, 2010

I definitely get why you're upset and unlike some here I don't think you should feel like you're overreacting. This is your child you're talking about. Better safe than sorry.

The fact is, that while it sounds like your daughter is probably not in any real danger from what she revealed, she probably does need a few lessons in boundaries on the internet. I do urge you to remain calm. Going off on her will probably just alienate her and make her think you're a crazy overprotective parent. You aren't, but that's how many teens perceive such things. Remember that she likely made this mistake out of ignorance, not some willful desire to flout the "rules" or whatever. So I advise going easy on her and avoiding any purely punitive actions at this stage. Do set boundaries for her about what's acceptable and not acceptable to share online. If after you do this she then continues to flout the rules/guidelines, then and only then should you think about restrictions and punishments.

I also want to put your mind at ease. As others have said, the dangers of the internet have at times been overstated. It's likely that the person your daughter talked with is another kid. I mean your daughter has heard her voice. It's likely she'd know if it was a weird pedo male or something. Also as others have said, not all adults on the internet, even ones who occasionally talk to children are predators. I belong to a fandom community which attracts all ages from young teens (12 or 13) all the way up to middle aged people. I frequently have online conversations with people who I know are minors even about more "personal" subjects than fandom, like they'll mention they're failing math and then we'll talk about math or something. I have on several occasions seen young people volunteer information that I didn't feel was safe for them to post online. I usually say something and gently remind them that very personal info is not safe online and that they should delete the comment or whatever. My point is that in reality, just like the real world, most adults online are nice normal people who mean no harm to children. The creeps are as rare on the net as in the real world.
posted by katyggls at 12:24 AM on December 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Since you've probably blown your credibility with her at this point (especially if Giovanna really is just another kid), perhaps you should bring in a third source of information, like sit down together and watch those "To Catch a Predator" shows. That will help show her that not everyone on the internet is who they say they are, and some might mean her harm.

Parent of the non-nuclear variety here, with some experience, who believes most of the "predators" are people you actually know. Find your truth in everything upthread, and sit her down and read her the riot act in your way -- YOU HAVE NOT BLOWN YOUR CREDIBILITY, you just need to re-group, which is exactly what you are wisely doing. Common sense must rule. And please, for goodness sakes, do not watch that hideous"To Catch a Predator" with your 11 year old daughter. I'm also not a fan of calling Giovanna -- that does seem a bit extreme based on what you've written here.
posted by thinkpiece at 7:13 AM on December 28, 2010

It's been a few days since the initial shock ensued.

OP - have you taken Giovanna's phone number and additional documentation to your local police department to get a second opinion yet?

My first thought when I read your post concerned some sort of phishing scam or use of the internet to identify vulnerable households for a future theft. Or Giovanna could be a real and innocent little girl. But if your initial instinct was that something was hinky about the communication, I think you are owe it to yourself to run this by the police for their opinion. Really.

BTW - I wouldn't tell my kids I took the info to the police and use that disclosure as part of this "learning moment." I just don't think the Giovanna aspect is worth dropping until you are reasonably sure it's not part of some sort of organized or adult-driven criminal conduct.

I hope you found a respectful and effective way to dialogue with your daughter about this whole incident.

Good luck.
posted by jbenben at 12:33 PM on December 28, 2010

I don't think it is helpful for people to share their experiences from BBS days. The internet was a different place back then - a lot smaller, for one thing, and it was a lot harder to connect an online persona to a real person. Today, you can get someone's location by getting them to snap a photo and send it to you via a smart phone, via encoded geo-tagging in pictures, and you can use street-view in Google maps to pinpoint their location visually.

I would call Giovanna, and calmly ask to speak to her parents. If it is a kid, they need to know their daughter is taking what they may think as a safe online interaction offline. If it isn't a kid, or is a weirder situation, then whoever your daughter was talking to knows her parents are vigilant about this stuff. And I would keep her out of OurWorld, which is not a great platform for young girls, both because it emphasizes socializing online with strangers and because the girl avatars are skanky, while the boy avatars are fully clothed.
posted by kristin at 12:44 PM on December 28, 2010

(FWIW, back in ye olden BBS times, you had to dial in with your home telephone number. So it was pretty easy to tie someone's online identity to their real life identity. The person who contacted me did so by simply calling the number I was dialing in with. Also, while the internet was "smaller", it was also largely used by adults - there was a decently good chance that, as a teenage girl, you were interacting with people who were not your peers. Nowadays it's not unusual for kids to use the internet, so it's odd to assume that all people your kid interacts with are unlikely to be who they say they are.)
posted by Sara C. at 3:14 PM on December 28, 2010

I've been lurking in this thread and not commenting, because others have said it all better than me (I'm 23; when I was a child on the internets, my parents had no idea what I was up to and more or less trusted me not to get into trouble; the most involvement they had was signing a consent form for me to play Neopets when I was 12), but I have to say this, because Flakypastry's comment sets my teeth on edge:

If my parents ever made me give them my passwords, I would point-blank refuse. If they then restricted my net access in some way, I would simply have logged in from school and not told them. Or from the library. Or from my (real-life) best friend's place. Or through a proxy server. Or ... look, the list goes on, and these were all available when I was 15, and there are even more options now what with smartphones and all. You cannot conceivably enforce this sort of thing; teenagers tend to be protective of their privacy; and unless you work in this field or are an enthusiast you probably don't want to start this technology arms race with your children either. Don't don't don't. Teach them about safety but don't hover like that.

What my parents did do was lay down some sensible ground rules: no address, no phone number, no full name (first name is fine, last name is not), no pictures, no personal identifying information of any kind. As long as I stuck to that I could do anything I wanted. That kept me safe through all my internet forays, including the time I accidentally befriended a pedophile. I say accidentally because I wasn't one of his targets - we were pretty good friends actually; I think he viewed me as a kind of oddity - and I only realised it once he got banned for, well, being a pedophile to other kids. That was a bit of a mindfuck. Anyway, it's stuck to me to this day, and is probably why I was a relatively late adopter of social networking things. Also why Facebook still doesn't have my mobile number despite it crying for it in the name of account security.
posted by Xany at 6:28 AM on December 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

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