OK so… I vanished for a couple weeks. Let’s catch up!
In February, I posted a mighty parental post about letting Zia, my ten-year-old, install Snapchat after a very compelling request she made, along with about a week of consideration on the topic. LESS THAN 24 HOURS LATER I was sitting in her principal’s office. I got a pretty vague “we need you to meet with us about Zia” call. I honestly expected it to be about depression, or lack of focus in class - these are fairly frequent comments/notes surrounding Zia in school, stresses that we’re constantly working on. But that’s not what this was…
While I’ve always been pretty good about random, periodic reviews of the girls phones for inappropriate /concerning behavior and content, within the previous two weeks since my last kid-technology review, Zia decided to go “catfishing.” Here’s a good definition of that to save you a Google search if you’re unfamiliar:
“Catfishing’ refers to a scam where someone, the ‘catfish,’ creates a fictitious online identity and seeks out online relationships. These are frequently romantic relationships, and online dating websites and cell phone dating apps are fertile hunting ground for catfish. However, there are also catfish who seek out friendships and other forms of social contact.
Let me clarify, we had not even installed Snapchat yet.
I think I can sum it up in one line from Zia’s browser history:
https://www.omegle.com/ “Omegle, A place to meet strangers!”
Ya. A place. To meet strangers. On purpose. She learned about it from one of the YouTubers she watches pretty regularly (who’s videos are usually annoying and target an older teen audience, but typically fine content-wise. It just takes one little post to go un-reviewed, though.)
And more awesome - the school had to call the police because Zia had created a fake profile and had been having some conversations with two 18+ dudes. Fun times.
She found photos on the internet of things/people to share with them. One of the dudes shared a no-shirt pic with her, but we didn’t find anything “worse”, and while she *totally* shared photos of the inside of our home, she did not share photos of her own face/self, so the police didn’t need to confiscate her phone or take further action.
She told one of these 18+ dudes she was ten, and he still carried on “friendly” conversation with her. Puke-worthy.
Zia seemed to think her prowess as a crafty catfish was pretty funny and shared a screenshot of one of her conversations with a couple of her friends from school - one child was concerned for Z’s safety, shared with her mom, her mom turned the screenshot into the principal at school. I have personally thanked this mom and Zia’s friends for doing the right thing. These kids and this parent were looking out for others, and I’m genuinely grateful.
With the exception of supervised use of her laptop to complete homework, Zia has been without any/all technology since the moment we walked out of the principal’s office. .Mostly while I figure out how on Earth we rebuild the trust and honestly between us, and NOT just create better sneakiness skills.
I cried on the drive home. It’s sad, embarrassing, disappointing and more than anything, it’s terrifying.
At home, Ken and I sorted through her entire phone and computer history. We were able to pinpoint the start date of all this stuff (less than 2 weeks prior), along with some phone numbers, chat logs, etc.
Z and I had a really, really, really long talk about EVERYTHING. Talks I didn’t think we’d be having for at least a few more years. I explained to her that while one of my biggest fears is that one of my kids goes missing, the scariest part of that fear isn’t finding her dead after having been horribly abused - it’s that she’ll be kept alive, being horribly abused, and never found.
With technology, comes access to everything. Parental controls? Parental controls in my experience have been very all-or-nothing, or impossibly high-maintenance. And kids are smart, they figure things out very quickly. I have worked in tech since 1998 and have more intimate knowledge of tech than a handful of parents out there. I’m grateful for this knowledge and for Ken’s way-better knowledge, because we were able to find a lot of information and talk openly with Z about it. And while it was scary bad, it could’ve been WAY worse, so in that way I have to be grateful that it happened now, and was caught relatively swiftly before it got WAY worse.
I had to leave for London the following week to speak at a conference, so I asked her if she could just be ten years old for a week with her dad, and we’d work more on rebuilding trust when I returned.
It’s a long road. It’s a balance of sharing some of the darkest realities of horror that exist in our world while also trying to let her know I am here, and she is loved, and how not-shitty her life actually is in the scheme of things. I can see there is a blatant need for attention in her right now, so I’m trying to nourish that in the healthiest way I can.
Probably the most important thing for me right now is to make sure she understands and defines her moral compass and personal values, and the importance of honest and open communication between us.
I’m not a perfect parent. I don’t have perfect kids. We fumble out loud, cuz hey… we’re all just figuring it out as we go.
More catching up next week! Thanks for following along.