Yesterday I shared this following post on my Facebook page, a horrifying post that sent chills to my back: a 14-year-old was killed by a 19-year-old he knew from a video game! HORRIFYING. My teen is 14. He plays video games. See the similarities! But then I said: He does not play with strangers. It should be good. Right? You know when you want to convince yourself by being in denial? I was doing that. I was trying to avoid the problem and saying to myself: It happens to the others, not to us.
But then, when my son came back home, I wanted to get things clear and get it off my chest. Better safe than sorry, right? I asked him if he played with strangers and he said: YES.
He says: Mom everybody plays with strangers. You should have seen my face: I was shocked. It could be him; it could be him. I was saying to myself. I did not know what to say and what to do, but then I decided to make him read the article. Yes, make him read. He was reading right next to me, and his face turned white too.
As a parent, I had a responsibility. I had the responsibility to discuss, share and emphasize. As a parent of a teen, I have a duty to protect and know what my child is doing: online and offline. I had few options ahead of me:
I could ban him from playing video games
That would be the best, right? But he has access to a computer at school, at a friend’s. Banning is never the option, in my opinion. Banning will create some deeper need and can lead to scarier behavior.
Option ruled out.
I could check everything he plays, monitor all his video games, maybe be his game buddy.
He was laughing out loud at me and with reason. I know I am a helicopter mom, but even I know that borders on an obsessed one! How can I monitor him 24-7? I can check from time to time but not hover.
I could discuss with him some safety measures
I believe in the discussion. Once he read the article, and I asked him: how can we avoid that? The solutions had to come from him. He had to be aware of the danger, and he had to have red flags. I had to help him figure those red flags.
- No information sharing what so ever: email, address, age, full name, etc. Stick with gamer tags and usernames that don’t have your real name as a part of it. He said he is already doing that, and I emphasized that a lot. I told him to be extra careful. I repeated maybe 20, 40 times until he was on the verge of shouting. Better be safe than sorry.
- Limit the time on the computer. I know that did not come from him but me. But by limiting game play, you limit the exposure to harm, and I make sure to discuss with him after the game (whenever possible to make sure no one tried to harm him or get to know him closely)
- Report button: he says all games had a report button. It sounds a nice feature, but the child must know what to report. He must know a suspicious behavior. Someone is trying to get your email, to know what you look like, what school you go to. Those seem innocent questions, but they are NOT in an online game with a stranger. You are discussing with a stranger. I asked my son: do you open our door to a stranger when you are alone? He says no. The same rule applies. My teen had to understand this.
- Shock them. Yes, make them read these articles. Discuss with them. Tell them it can happen to anyone. Use the dinner time to discuss. I know you are tired, and you want some peace of mind but listening to your teen is crucial. It will help you detect any behavioral change.
I don’t have a magic answer. I wish I had. I wish I could ban my teen from playing video games, crossing the street by himself and just put him in a bubble. I cannot. Can I? I need to give him tools, help him. DISCUSSING helps me. It helps me detect any suspicious behavior. It helps him know that there is someone else caring for him. Reducing screen time is a great option. Get him to do other things: fitness activities, reading books, playing a card with you, baking if he likes.