Minecraft online, with one of his friends. He'd not seen this kid since school let out, last month, so I was happy to give him a bit more time than normal … as it was social - not solitary play.
When it was time, I called him in for dinner, to which I knew he was going to inhale so he could get back to his friend to play.
He happily ran in, and said, "I'm having so much fun with Garret, and his friend, Janet. (names have been altered)
My ears perked up and I said, "Janet? Who's Janet?"
"Oh, it's okay. She's Garret's friend. She's cool."
In digging deeper with my kid, I found out it was not a friend in real life, but a friend Garret had found online.
My kid knows better than this. He knows never to give out personal info and to ignore anyone that were to reach out to him in global chat, in Minecraft, for anything outside game questions.
Come to find out Garret found an ad online for a server, for Minecraft that 'Janet' had posted. He replied to the advertisement, so then 'Janet' was then someone he approached … not the other way around. Garret felt safe with 'Janet' because it wasn't a stranger approaching him.
He thought it was okay to play with her because after all - he asked to play on her server.
Once I found this out, I put down my pizza (as I couldn't stomach anymore of the scenario or my food) and asked if she'd asked my kid anything. I needed to know what she knew about my kid.
"She only asked if Garret and I were Skyping. We told her no, we FaceTimed."
Gulp. Keep in mind people. This isn't a personal question, but it's a leading question. It's an attempt to form familiar ground. It's a lead in. And, it lets her know that a kid is willing to answer blindly. and after more time online together, they'll answer more.
This is how it all starts.
Most parents only warn kids about stranger danger online with instructions like, 'don't ever give out your name, age, school etc…' --- but it's bigger than that.
When people are putting out server ads for a harmless game, which will excite your child to come play, they're drawing your kid in so that they don't feel the threat of a stranger. And this is a big threat because they could be walking into the web of a predator.
I asked my kid to get Garett back on FaceTime so I could visit with them both. Come to find out 'Janet' had already asked Garett's age and he gave it … because after all - she was cool. Garett approached her.
I had to have a huge discussion with both kids on what this person was really up to. That it was not safe and she was not their friend. I let them know that 'Janet' probably wasn't a 14 year old girl, but at big fat hairy 35 year old man, who was looking for little boys, just like them.
I made them promise to never play her server again and to never talk to her again. With a deer in the headlights look, they both agreed.
Come to find out 'Janet' tried to contact Garett after both boys promptly cut ties, to let him know that it 'ruined her day after they left her'. 'Janet' was pulling the guilt card trying to reel him back in.
I am asking you right now to have this type of conversation with your kid … especially if they play Minecraft. Let them know these things:
1. Ads for servers may be put up by people, who are predators. Some kids do advertise their servers, and are safe. BUT so do the people, who have bad intentions. They need to know about both sides of the spectrum, so that they are aware of what they're walking into.
2. Explain what predators are! I know we want to protect our kids and put them in a bubble, especially if they're on the younger side. However, if you let them play games in a world with these types of people - it's like sending them into a war without a weapon. Arm them with knowledge, so they know the WHY behind they shouldn't give out personal info … but also why they shouldn't communicate to anyone they don't know for any reason.
3. Also let them know, that giving fake answers for questions from people is just as bad as no answers at all.
Once my kid and his friends were online in my living room, with their lap tops, playing (you guessed it … Minecraft), when someone asked them all how old they were and what school they went to. They all knew not to give real info, so they gave fake answers, which were immature in nature. The nature of their answer was a sign of their maturity level, which let the person know that they were probably in middle school or lower.
Fake answers are still a sign of age. Just instruct your kids to shut down the server -- get away from the person, just like in real life -- run from the bad guys.
4. Let your kids know that you're always there to help them and want to know about anyone approaching them online (even if it doesn't seem like anything … it could be.). Make sure your kid knows you're not going to freak out when told about anyone approaching them online. A hysterical parent is one they want to avoid. Be calm and open.
I felt like I needed to put this out there for anyone, who let their kids play without checking on them. CHECK on your kids people. Find out what they're doing online, and who they're talking to.