In a house of two boys and one girl, my husband and I tend to divide “issues.” Most of the “boy stuff” goes to him and the “girl dramas” go to me. This works well most of the time. For example, my 8-year-old son is a video game lover, and I am not. My husband is usually the deciding factor between a new game or video game system, as he grew up playing them and is a pretty good judge of what’s appropriate for a 3rd grader. But there is a large black cloud over this topic in our household that neither of us are prepared for. As a kid, his video game weren’t online. Now they are. And as parents, we don’t know what to do about it.
Another dad named Brad Summer recently shared a Facebook post that went viral about this very topic—the unsafe waters our kids wade into when we let them go online. Brad’s daughter is seven years old and has enjoyed recording singing duets with friends on the app musical.ly. She has also been able to connect remotely with her cousins, and when she received a new message recently, she assumed it was one of them. At first. In his post, Brad says, “I never thought of someone pretending to be 9 to gain access to my child.” But the truth is terrifying, as that is exactly what happened.
As a parent to an 8, 6, and 4-year-old myself, the messages Brad’s 7-year-old received are hard to read. After requesting a picture of Madi, her new friend “Jessy” asks for another one. This time the request is for “a picture without a shirt on.” And continues with “I’d like to see your body without a t-shirt, without clothes on.” When Madi resists and says her mom won’t allow that, “Jessy” tries the age-old predator trick—”Go take the picture in the bathroom” and “It’s our secret.”
Thankfully Madi’s parents intervened before the conversation went further. Madi is safe. The police were contacted, and as reported in his post: “The detective has found the IP address of this person and has submitted a subpoena to this app to freeze all records pertaining to this person (s). They are continuing to make progress!”
Brad realizes that by sharing their family’s story, they might face criticism and judgment. But he says it’s worth it if he can help save another child from harm. “I know many will blame us parents for this happening,” Brad says. “But we never thought like predators and I guess we were naive in thinking that our daughter was safe on what we thought to be a kid friendly app. We have learned the hard way. I ask that you not judge us (many still will) but let our experience teach us all.”
Brad admits in his post that he made a mistake not knowing that strangers could gain access to his child via musical.ly but says that “We live and learn and I continue to do so everyday as a parent.”
As a parent whose child is begging to go online, post to YouTube, and connect with friends remotely via video games, I appreciate Brad’s courage in telling this story. Our generation is the first to raise online kids when we ourselves did not. I have had similar talks with my son about “tricky people” online as I prepare to let him have more and more access in the next few years. We’ve talked about not giving out his name, age, address, or personal information. About what appropriate conversations look like. I’ve also told him to tell me anytime someone sends him a message. And, as much as it’s hard to do, I’ve taught him about people like this predator who tried to gain access to Madi. I want him to see the world as a beautiful, kind place. But I also need to keep him safe. So he has to know the hard, ugly truth: that there are people out there who will want to hurt him. These conversations break my heart, but they are necessary.
It’s a scary online world and as parents, we often feel like we are fumbling through the dark. By sharing stories like Madi’s, however, we can link hands and help our kids get safely to the other side.