“Can we talk on the bed?” This is my 10-year-old daughter’s code for I did something questionable that I really want to talk to you about, but I’m afraid I’ll get in trouble.
Sitting on my bed is a safe place in our house, where the kids can tell me anything without fear of punishment. I got the idea from my friend, Barb, who raised four kids and is one of the smartest people I know.
“Okay, so you’re not going to be mad…right?” my daughter says when she sits down.
This is the part where I freak out in my head, but I make myself say, in a what I hope is a calm voice, “Of course not, what is it, Sweetie?”
I mentally prepare myself for accidental arson or confessing that the weird kid down the street molested her, but it’s nothing like that. It never is.
“It’s about being online, Mom.”
“Okay, what happened?” Again, I internally freak out, expecting the dude from “To Catch a Predator” to bust through my front door with a news crew and ask me how long I’ve been oblivious to the fact my daughter has been the victim of an online pedophile ring.
But instead, my daughter tells me with tears in her eyes, wild gestures to the ceiling and pinches to the bridge of her nose about her online drama in Roblox.
Roblox is an online platform for kids that hosts a bunch of role play games. Cops and Robbers, animals in packs that have to attack other players and eat them in order to survive, almost educational at first glance. But after you watch it for awhile, it’s really just a bunch of kids walking around chatting in groups. It’s something I would have been drawn to as a kid—virtual kids in a virtual fantasy land with no adult supervision—Lord of the Flies, except they are all pixelated unicorns or tigers on a screen.
The disturbing part is all the lonely kids in corners with dialogue bubbles that read, “I hav no friens, im so sad” or “I hate my life, I want 2 dy.” At first, I thought they might be savvy adults, pretending to lure unsuspecting 8-year-olds into feeling bad for them, but I soon realized that real kids just say, “Okay, bye,” and run off to play, kind of how they are in real life—oblivious with short attention spans. The lonely ones are the ones in danger. All they want is somebody to pay attention to them, making them easy targets for predators, and sadly, there are a lot of them.
I’ve hammered it into my kids’ heads that children don’t ask you what your real name is, or your age and address, because real kids don’t care; they just want to play. Sometimes, the adults wait a long time, pretending to be a kid before they ask personal questions, to gain their trust. As a result, my daughter has become uber paranoid and has made it her personal goal to oust every suspected adult masquerading as a kid on Roblox and have them banned. That’s an adult who is trying to kidnap you! she will scream in all caps in the chat boxes.
But this time, our talk on the bed had nothing to do with predators, although in the past she clued in one of her unsuspecting friends that Peppypants210 was not simply a half-unicorn-half-kid, but an adult trying to score a “playdate” with her while her parents were out of the house.
My daughter is a super confident kid. She is a natural leader and found herself quickly with a mass following on Roblox. She got into an argument with another confident girl over something silly, and it turned into an epic gang rivalry like something out of “The Outsiders” with spies, back-stabbery, and treason.
As I tried to decipher the core tension between ZippyZappy and herself and the fallout of being forced to unfriend Kiwikitty who the others thought was a spy, I wanted to yell, “Do you know how ridiculous this sounds?” But in her ten-year-old mind, it was the end of the world. I kept telling myself, listen to the little things, so later she will tell you about the bigger things, but then I realized, right now this was the big thing. So, I listened and coached her.
We had just finished watching a “Lost in Space” episode where Will’s dad makes him put 26 rocks he can hardly carry in a pile, to represent the 26 people Will’s alien robot killed before he became devoted to being Will’s protector. It was to show Will how heavy the responsibility is of having a sometimes murderous alien robot under his control. I reminded her of that episode, and how being a leader is a heavy responsibility, and a good leader attracts others because of their kindness, fairness, and ability to listen to others.
My daughter’s friend told us a few weeks ago how a girl in her class tried to kill herself because of a group of girls bullying her on Instagram, calling her a bisexual and posting mocking pictures. Roblox is an elementary school form of Instagram. The kids’ true selves are hidden behind pixelated, Minecraft looking identities, but this anonymity gives them the freedom to say and do things they never would to another child in real life.
My daughter’s generation is getting schooled early in social media etiquette. We have a chance to be part of that process, but it requires a certain trust and openness between parent and child. I thought about banning her from Roblox, but that would deny her the opportunity to learn how to navigate social media in a responsible way and teach her that when something bad happened online, whatever you do, don’t tell Mom–that, to me, is the real danger.
After our long talk, she decided on her own that she would make things right with –Zippyzappy and apologize and ask if they could start over. She re-friended the girl the group kicked out and told them she wanted everybody to stop fighting and not talk bad about the rival group anymore, even if they talked bad about them. To me, that’s progress and I was happy to be a part of it, but what made me even happier was hearing my daughter telling me how much it means to her that I listened and wasn’t mad at her. Nowadays, when she says, “Mom, UnicornSillyCat is online and she asked me something. Can you read my response before I post it and see if it’s okay?” Those are the moments to me, that parenting is all about.
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