Pre-pandemic, we had gotten our child an iPhone and set up the child’s Apple ID to monitor her phone and track her whereabouts, etc. She had to walk home from school each day in fourth grade, and we didn’t feel comfortable NOT giving her a phone even with a .6 mile straight walk on a side street home. It also worked well for her to call/text/FaceTime her biological dad that lives out of state. We did everything we could to make sure she only accessed the things she needed or we allowed, but it has been a constant test of vigilance for the past couple years.
First, we had let her have Snap Chat on her phone, because my husband and I had only used it to do funny pictures with her and her younger cousin when she would come over. We had never used it for social connection, and we didn’t expect her to use it for that purpose either. We found during one of our routine “phone checks” that she had been chatting with people on Snap Chat! My husband tried to let her know that there are truly evil people out there that pretend to be little kids but are actually grown adults that want to hurt little girls like her. We were so upset and stepped up our vigilance.
Then, the pandemic hit, and she and her two-three besties wanted to have video chats with Google Duo and play Roblox together. She took it upon herself to register for Roblox HERSELF! She used her FULL name and made the password the same as the username! Since she didn’t ask us to set it up, she ended up coming to us in tears one day that someone had hacked into her account and changed her password, and she lost all the progress she had made in her game. We had to have the talk about how dangerous it is to use her full and actual name online and to try to create her own passwords… I had to go round and round with Roblox to figure out how to prove it was my daughter’s account and recover everything for her.
Also, last school year, I had told her to stay off of YouTube, because there was too much on there she could come across via an innocent search that was not appropriate for children at all. I had caught her a couple times getting on YouTube anyway, so I removed the app from her computer, her phone, and her TV. I put on the Kids YouTube app for her phone and told her that was fine to watch for whatever she wanted. Turns out, she had been going on the web browser to access YouTube to get around the safeguards we put in place, and she came across things an almost-11-year-old has no business being exposed to.
We did a computer check this past weekend and found recent Google searches we were not prepared for (at least not for a few years yet).
Not to name specifics, but she was trying to ask the Internet about birds-and-the-bees’ terms she had never heard before. She was at her grandmother’s house for the weekend when we discovered this, so we waited until Sunday night to confront her. In the meantime, I had to reach out to the moms of her two closest friends she talks to ALL the time and let them know what OUR daughter had been searching, in case the three of them had tried to talk about these terms amongst themselves. The one good thing that came out of this is that they are upping their vigilance game even more than any of us thought we’d need to yet.
There weren’t Internet or cell phones back in our day at these girls’ age, so sometimes it’s hard to gauge at what age they’re going to discover things. We naively thought that since the girls had all been out of school for seven months that they were not going to be exposed to things that none of us allowed to be talked about or shown to these young girls. We were in for a surprise. How do we balance being furious that she subverted all the safeguards we tried to put in place FOR HER PROTECTION with trying to let her know WE are a safe place to ask those types of questions to? We want her to come to us to learn the correct way about anatomy and love. The Internet searches she was trying to do will only pervert the complexity that goes into it all, and she doesn’t have near the maturity level to handle any of it if it doesn’t come from her parents.
We were so disappointed in her. I had to call her biological dad, too, and tell him what we had uncovered. Collectively, we parents all had to take a deep breath and say, “Okay, so now she knows. How do we use this as an opportunity to talk to her in ways she can understand and handle and make sure she feels comfortable coming to her parents about any of this stuff as she moves through the pre-teen years and into her teens?” I couldn’t talk to my parents about these things while they were going through a nasty divorce as I moved into my teen years. I figured things out all wrong by myself, and I don’t want that for her. She has three committed parents, a wonderful woman dating her biological dad, and at least one grandmother she could talk to about anything. We don’t want her embarrassed or ashamed to express her curiosities to any of us and get the facts in the correct and constructive way. We also do not want her circumventing the protections we’ve put in place for just that reason – to protect her.
I am not sure what the coming teen years will hold for us, but moms with teenagers – please share your infinite wisdom!