To the Potentially Old Dude Messaging My Teenage Daughter
I am nearly 33 years old. I have somehow managed to make it this far in life without purposely injuring a single person. I’ve never been in a fight, never lashed out in aggression. I don’t even spank my kids. My own experience as a kid who got the snot beat out of her helped me to realize very early on that violence just isn’t the answer.
As someone who has spent 17 years piddling around on the internet, making my writing and social media interaction my primary method of communication, I understand internet culture. I get the need to make connections. I also remember being this incredibly shy, unimportant young girl who found people online who valued her. Most of them were good friends I still keep in touch with to this day. A good handful were men who knew my age and attempted to groom me into a victim. The potential of this happening to my child terrifies me.
That’s why her first smart phone came with a pretty stern warning. “This is for you to use to contact me and your friends, and that’s it.” I explained to her that the only reason why she got a phone in the first place was because I’m a single parent who can only be in one place at a time. I don’t transport her to and from school, so if she’s not riding the bus home because of detentions or tutorials, I want her to be able to text me and let her know. She also doesn’t get out and about with her friends nearly as often as she probably should, so having her own way to communicate with actual offline friends is something I wanted to provide. We spoke in-depth about internet culture and the sort of creeps who actively look for girls and boys. I wanted her to completely understand the risks of online interaction in hopes that any choices she made when I wasn’t looking would be educated ones.
What I didn’t foresee was the extent someone would go to in order to communicate with children.
This man, who calls himself Noah, started off the conversation with days worth of small talk. I assumed it was yet another friend from school (the platform doesn’t provide ages, locations, or identifying information about the users) and the messages were so ordinary that I had no reason to suspect anything. Then emotes started, the kind that are surrounded by asterisks. His first emote was innocent and the next described doing something of a clear sexual nature. My daughter’s reply was “What are you doing? What does that mean?” and the subject was changed. Shaken up by what my daughter saw and didn’t comprehend, I sent the user a message. “Hi. This is the user’s mother. Contact her again and you will hope the police find you before I do.” This man proceeded to delete his account and create new ones. He encouraged her to do the same. The sexual content was amplified and again my daughter didn’t respond. She changed the subject or went completely silent for hours, possibly to give herself enough time to wonder what to say or what she’d do if her unhinged mother caught on that it was the same fellow. I made the mistake of threatening to take her phone away from her completely. Now I have to wonder if that action was why she hid what he was doing. I have to at least partially take blame for the things my beautiful little girl now knows.
Then I have to wonder how many other little girls he’s contacting. I have to worry about the ones who don’t have parents as watchful as me. The fact that he was clued in on her being a minor and still contacted her and amped up the horrifying messages provided thereafter puts a pit in my stomach so deep, I could eat the bastard alive and not shit him out for five months.
The app, which is owned by a Japanese company, provides little reporting as well. They don’t even require registration to use the chat/messaging functions provided in their system. Aside from some super deep NSA-styled tracking (let’s hope it’s not an iPhone), there’s really no way to track down this person and make sure he’s not a predator hiding behind big-eyed anime avatars.
It bothers me that we live in a society where instead of hunting down potential predators, we have to be so watchful and warn our children about people who could do things they maybe can’t even conceptualize. I haven’t had “the talk” with my daughter. She still wonders if babies come from kissing, so her knowledge about sex is pretty limited. It’s hard to say “There are bad people in this world who want to molest children physically, mentally, and/or emotionally” when your child doesn’t even completely understand how.
Noah, this one’s for you: you have taken something beautiful away from my precious little girl. There’s innocence lost now. There are words in her head that she’s never even heard before (trust me, we’re formerly Mormon). There are concepts building and she’s nowhere near old enough to even have them on her radar. Please delete your account, go offline, and seek counseling. Or, you know, I will fucking find you. ❤