When you have children, you have hopes and dreams. That beautiful little bundle you bring home from the hospital is a brand new life. Your life is forever altered, and this new little person is in your care. Those first days seem to drag on, and this stage of life feels like it will last forever. Then, this little person has her own thoughts, emotions, and actions. It is your job to guide her in the right direction.
When my daughter was a baby and as she grew up, I never imagined that our lives might be changed by the horrible situation we found ourselves in. I just never thought that such a thing would happen in our family. But it did. And it could happen in yours too, so please read my story and, if you haven’t already, take this opportunity to talk with your own children about this kind of situation. My prayer is that it will never happen to you, but if it has happened, you need to know about it. And if it hasn’t happened, perhaps our story and your conversation with your children will be part of the reason why.
At the age of 14, my daughter was manipulated into sharing nude pictures with a boy she doesn’t even know. When she turned 13, her daddy and I decided she could have a cell phone. We knew of some of the dangers of cell phones, but we weren’t as knowledgeable as we thought we were. We sat our daughter down and gave her some rules and guidelines for using her phone. Because she’d never given us any reason to doubt that she would follow our rules, we believed that she would. We should have been far more careful.
We are a Christian family, and our children have been brought up in a Christian home. This doesn’t, of course, mean that we don’t make mistakes. We do. But thankfully, it means we have a church family of other Christians who love and care about our children too. In fact, it was my brother who called my husband one day and told him that we needed to check our daughter’s phone.
My husband immediately got off the phone and talked with our daughter. She told us she’d been texting a boy she knew, and then she began texting his brother, whom she didn’t know. After texting him for a while, she began using SnapChat and sending him pictures. He then sent nude pictures of himself to her and asked her to send him some nude pictures of her. At first she refused, but he repeatedly asked, and eventually she gave in and sent one. Because she refused to send more pictures, he threatened to send the one she’d sent to us (her parents) and to her church family and friends. She was scared and sent him two more pictures.
When I spoke with my daughter about it later, she said she thought that since she used SnapChat, the pictures would be gone and that the boy wouldn’t be able to look at them again or share them with anyone else. She knew that, if someone wanted to save a snap, a notification would be sent to the photograph’s sender. It didn’t take long at all to Google “how to sae snaps without notifying the sender” to find multiple sites with detailed instructions on how to do that very thing. She was shocked and saddened and afraid, but it was too late. She’d already sent the pictures, and the boy had already saved them. I also explained that, because of the bold actions he’d already taken, it was very possible that he’d already shown her photos to his friends. At the time, she hadn’t believed such a thing could happen. But it did.
Our children, despite the fact that we’ve raised them to know better, often get in situations that are over their heads. That’s why God gave them parents to lead and guide them. As we’ve discovered, though, it can be hard to keep up with technology and keep our children safe despite our best efforts. But there are some things we parents can be made aware of that might help. Here are a few things I’ve learned through this experience.
Apps change all the time, and it’s nearly impossible to know every app and what it does. But you can monitor your child’s phone and allow him or her to use only apps that are approved by you. Any app that operates using secrecy is a big no no! SnapChat is one of these because the “snaps” delete after 30 second–giving our children the idea that the snaps they send are gone and can’t be shared with anyone else. Any app that deletes photos or messages after a certain amount of time is a problem. Any app that is used to send messages anonymously is a problem.
Your Child’s Behavior
If your child is becoming secretive or obsessed, it’s time to reign in the device usage. When my daughter first began using her phone excessively, I had no idea that could mean she was involved in something she shouldn’t have been. I didn’t realize her behavior was giving me clues to the fact that something was going on that shouldn’t have been. I wish I’d known.
I am a believer in filters. You need one that does not allow downloads. There are some filters available that stop the child from using the phone after a certain amount of time (that you set) has been reached. A good filter can take the pressure off your child by giving her an “out” if she’s being pressured to download an app she shouldn’t.
Be Aware of Cyber Bullying
Apps are a way that many bullies electronically harass. The victims often feel as if they have no way of escape. (And cyber bullies not only use cell phones to harass people, but they can also use email, social media sites, chat rooms, etc.) Our children need to know that they can come to us if they’re being bullied by anyone for any reason! In fact, you may need to have a conversation about what bullying actually is since they may not even recognize it for what it is. I’m not sure my daughter really equated what she was going through with being bullied.
Have a Discussion About People Misrepresenting Themselves
Our children are often naive enough to believe that, just because someone online claims to be a certain age or gender or to have only “good” intentions, these people may not be who they claim to be at all! I’ve tried to explain to my daughter that, even when she’s text messaging friends, it’s impossible to know that the person she’s texting isn’t a friend or sibling or someone else who’s using her friend’s phone. The same thing goes for social media and even email. You simply cannot know for certain who’s at the other end of the message you’re sending.
Our children may not realize that, while they think they’re sending pictures to a 14-year-old girl they “met” online, they could actually be texting or sending pictures to a 45-year-old man who has a criminal record for child pornography! And that picture that your new 14-year-old girl friend just sent you may be a picture of someone else or even a stock picture out of a new wallet. There’s just no way to know!
As a mom, I never thought I would be going through this with my child. I never thought I would have to protect her heart from addiction and abuse. I never thought I would need to put filters in place and set these kinds of limits. I just didn’t realize the kinds of trouble that could result from something that started out as simply as text messaging.
But I learned enough from this experience to be certain that safeguards will be there for the rest of my family. I won’t make the mistake again of believing that my children could never become involved in such a situation.
In fact, I now believe it’s even important to take precautions to protect my husband and myself. It’s too easy to be using our phones for innocent purposes and to come across something inappropriate. That kind of innocent mistake leads many people down the path to pornography addictions or worse. It’s something we just don’t want to take a chance on.
Now we monitor all phone and internet usage. We use filters. We know all passwords. We have access to all accounts, computers, and cell phones. And we’re constantly researching better safeguards and ways to keep our children and ourselves safe.
Momma, protect your children. If there ever was a time for “Momma Bear” to emerge, this is it. There are some mistakes that can’t be undone.
But keep in mind that you are not alone. This can affect anyone. Have someone you can talk to, and do what you need to do for your family.
Note from Hip Homeschool Moms: If you’re interested in a site that shares information about how to keep your family safe online and provides internet accountability software as well as web content filtering (including the ability to block certain sites or have only certain sites unblocked and available to your children), we love Covenant Eyes! We are Covenant Eyes affiliates, but we’re affiliates because we use them and because we believe in them. That’s why we recommend them to you!