My 12 year old daughter was recently approached inappropriately by an older man, and I couldn't be happier.
Yup, you read that right.
Why would that make me happy? Because she was approached by a virtual man on a virtual dance floor in a virtual world. Only virtual harm done.
You see, my daughter was on an online site that "all the kids" are on. I won't name it, because it's unfair to complain that a site that isn't intended for kids isn't safe for them. Of course it isn't. They aren't supposed to be on the site in the first place.
In fact, kids are all over sites they are not supposed to be on. 38% of kids 10-12 are on Facebook, which is restricted by COPPA regulations to people 13 and older. A similar percentage are on YouTube.
No surprise. Kids love to go exactly where their parents tell them not to. (Though 71% of parents of under-13 kids with a Facebook account helped their kids lie about their age to get it.)
Here's a news flash: your child is most likely going to online places he or she shouldn't.
Like my daughter. She ended up as a scantily clad avatar dancing with a virtual man in leather pants in a virtual club in a virtual world. Only when her virtual dance partner asked her to remove her virtual top (an action, by the way, the site does not allow) did she tell me where she had been.
Why did she tell me? Because she was freaked out and afraid. But also because I've made it OK for her to tell me about her online activities. Beth Blecherman, founder of TechMamas, and a family tech expert, calls the Tech Talk the new Sex Talk: have it with your kids early, honestly, and frankly.
I had already talked to my daughter about online safety enough - and openly enough - that she felt she could tell me the truth about where she had been. And I saw her unfortunate online experience as an opportunity for me to talk to her not just about online behavior - don't go to sites that aren't COPPA compliant; don't give out any personal information; don't behave online in ways you wouldn't in the real world - but about real world behavior, too: don't act in ways around men - real or otherwise - that you don't really mean. If you feel uncomfortable, leave the situation, tell a grown up, find a friend.
Am I happy my daughter was on a site she shouldn't have been? Of course not. But am I glad I got to teach her a real life and a virtual lesson all at the same time? You bet. And am I glad she learned that lesson in a virtual world rather than the real one? Oh yeah.
We parents can learn a lesson, too. We need to accept that despite our best intentions, our best blocking programs, our best monitoring efforts, our children will likely end up in online places we don't want them to be. We need to realize that keeping them safe isn't about keeping them off these sites, it's about making sure they know how to behave when they get there.
Oh, and about never trusting a man in leather pants.
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