Our kids are old enough to be home alone while we are out for short periods of time. We bought them a kid-friendly phone to have in case they need to reach us. Earlier this week, Michelle and I came home to our kids telling us an alarming story.
A few of them were playing an online game called “Among Us.” The game randomly pairs people together and includes a chat feature. In the game chat that night, one of the people they were playing with started to tell one of my kids that they were hot (they can’t see their appearance in the game). She said her name was Ashley and that she was a thirteen-year-old girl. In the chat of the game, she gave my kids her cell phone number and said to text her when they were done playing the game. Thinking they were making a new friend, they did.
When we got home our kids knew something about this didn’t feel right and handed over the phone. I read through the text exchange for myself. Here are a few highlights that stood out to me:
- Originally the person told my kids she was thirteen. Later, she changed it to eleven because she “thought you would be a little older than me.”
- She keeps trying to clarify the age of my kids, then says “Send a video of your voice to make sure.”
- After my kids don’t do that, she follows up with another request. “Well take video and send it to me like that if u can.”
- Seven minutes after the second unsuccessful attempt, she ends the conversation by saying “Well have to go to sleep.”
- And did I mention, the number was from our state?
Here’s the thing, our kids are good kids who I trust immensely. But they have a naivetÃ© about the harm that could happen to them. That’s part of being a kid. But as an adult, I think it unlikely they were talking to an eleven-year-old girl named Ashley.
Many parents think the solution lies in removing any possible threats to their kids at all costs. Maybe ban them from cell phones till they move out. Don’t let them play online games. Make them watch only Disney cartoons. But I spent enough years in Student Ministry to notice that parents can dramatically set their kids up for failure in one of two ways: 1) extreme freedom with no accountability, or 2) extreme control with no development. I’ve watched both parenting models fall apart once kids leave the house. Michelle and I choose to navigate the tension in between and teach our kids how to handle more complex challenges around them as they grow. We need them to find themselves and learn to be prepared for the road ahead.
This is not an advertisement in any way, but one of the best purchases we’ve ever made is to buy our kids a Gabb phone to share (click here for link). It doesn’t allow them to send or receive pictures or videos and can’t do video calling. It has a few apps but none of them are social media. This is a great tool that allowed our kids to learn a profound lesson this week without allowing them to put themselves at a higher risk (which I fear they would have had it not been for the limitations of the phone).
Parenting is hard to begin with and technology continues to add new layers of complexity that earlier generations didn’t have to worry about. If you’re a parent, I’d encourage you to find ways to thoughtfully engage your kids in more complex discussions as they develop. If you’re not a parent or your kids are grown, I’d encourage you to find ways to support the kids and parents around you. It really does take a village.
We can’t afford to abandon kids to the darkness of the world around them. We also can’t deny that they will have to make decisions for themselves at some point in the future. But we can thoughtfully engage with them and develop them to rise to the challenge. The world needs them.