Why You Should Monitor Your Teens Devices

Time for an update on the whole Internet Predator/Milla Debacle.

 

I can’t believe it, but Milla is already showing drastic improvement; and it’s been only a week since we discovered the issue. I was convinced Milla was traumatized beyond repair and that she would need several therapy sessions to help her process what happened. But literally pulling the plug on screen use has proven to be worth it’s weight in gold. The bulk of the issue was too much freedom—too much running wild, completely unleashed in the internet jungle. And so reeling it in has just about resolved the problem on it’s own.

She’s like a whole new kid.

And it feels like she’s happier than before. She has a sense of humor, is less irritable and even comes to check in with me throughout the day and night, wherever I am in the house. I love this!

Of course counseling will still be in the picture—I believe in giving all of my kids an opportunity to seek help with a professional—and having complete confidentiality. They can pour their hearts out one session at a time and gain an understanding about themselves in a way that I cannot teach. Milla will be able to learn some meaningful tools to help her cope in a busy world—with someone she trusts. I only wish I stepped in sooner to offer this.

I’ve also been policing her viewing history as I religiously collect both her iPhone and iPad every evening. She knows I look through it—the transparency has us trusting each other more. And she agrees that the freedom she has is enough and understands the freedom she had before was far too much. I should’ve been doing this from day one, but I’m glad I have a much better understanding now.

I randomly told the story to my doctor yesterday and she said that another patient of hers confessed to learning how to cut herself online—simply from being exposed to it as an option for self expression or anxiety relief.

We have to protect our kids better than this, I said.

Kids are so impressionable. Too much independence could easily yield a dangerous situation. When they become teens, everything rides on that edge of you can’t tell me what to do, you really don’t know anything at all. They seek other meaning—oftentimes opposite what you have told them. But this doesn’t mean Milla doesn’t need me anymore—it means she needs me now more than ever. I have come to understand this sort of backwards rationale.

Even though there is nothing more precious to me than my kids’ innocence and security, this So Called Mom has also been careless with it. I see it clearly now that Milla has directly experienced my lackadaisical approach to the online world. Consequently, ignorance is not bliss— it’s hazardous. Parenting teens means patrolling them too. Especially with their online usage—otherwise it’s all out of sight, out of mind.

If something is amiss, we need to ask ourselves, what is it they are not getting and how do I fulfill that need? 

I understand this is a challenge—all moms are busy. There’s a lot that is demanded of us these days. But we need to engage, to stay involved and lean into it. Because what we don’t know will hurt us. We need to see the apps they have, the profiles they’re creating, the viewing history. We need to ultimately talk about the scary world they are navigating, and talk about it often. Even if we are afraid of what we’ll find, we need to stay connected and stay close by.

Surveillance on High,

So Called Mom

Meeting the Dark Side of the Internet

Kids iPhones and ipadsSo Called Mom

Well, it happened.

Milla lost her privileges to all of her screens and all of her accounts. The hardest part was, that none of it was her fault—even though she still thinks it is.
About a week ago, I posted my thoughts about screens and kids. Well, today I did a 180 on that. Why? Because of a sudden need for maximum security.
As far as I can see,  I’ve identified two kinds of damage that surround screen use. The first is the common one: the addiction that comes with too much use, whether it’s social media or video games. Theoretically there’s a straight-forward solution: go outside and play, read a book or use your hands and create something.
The second is more unexpected and much more concerning. It’s made me look to the connective power of the internet as something that is more harmful than helpful. It’s made me question my laissez-faire attitude.

It’s even made me question the way I’ve made some mom choices.

Cutting to the chase: I think my 14-year-old was lured into a teen self-harm group – which is bad enough, but to make matters worse, the group may be linked to some kind of sex trafficking gang or occult. Maybe that sounds like a stretch, but at this point, I don’t care what it is—I just want my daughter as far away from it as possible.

So don’t misunderstand:  it’s  not like we don’t comprehend internet safety, we just never thought the bad stuff would happen to our own kid. But the depth of insanity that I’m going to reveal is enough to make you realize just how much you don’t know. And I hope it gives you goosebumps.  It’s certainly freaked the hell out of me.

So here’s the story: 

Last week, Milla’s internet girlfriend broke up with her. She was devastated, and I helped pick up the pieces. This week, one of the friends in the same group of online friends died. I had no idea this child had cancer, no idea she became a bestie, no idea there was even a circle of “friends” that Milla now referred to as her “family”and no idea just how much that family knew about Milla.
The truth is, I had noticed Milla acting depressed lately and becoming darker and more isolated. I noticed her real friends had completely dwindled—but I thought it was because she favored the online version. For some reason, I didn’t think to question that. I wanted to be open to the fact that we live in a new world, where kids can connect with different people in different cultures. That she was ahead of the curve on this, like always and I wanted to respect her privacy. I tried to put my foot down when I could, but ever so lightly because she was, after all, a 14-year-old girl who was navigating all sorts of stuff—sexuality, friends, trading middle school for high school…all of it. It’s only a stage, I told myself. At least you’re a part of it.

But I don’t know why I thought I was a part of it when I obviously wasn’t.

I was an outsider to a place she was increasingly visiting for answers. I had no idea that she was being swept away. It wasn’t until she was devastated by back to back events –  heartbreak from one “Friend” and the death of another – that I was suddenly clued into something more twisted and dark. 

It was Pippin who stepped in with some critical questions:  

Ok….I’m slow to the uptake. But here was my wake up call.

We looked through her devices and uncovered multiple accounts from a tight group of people who shared images of slashed wrists and made art about death and loneliness. One of them was our beloved Milla—you could literally scroll and see the darkness taking over her originally cheery and artsy account. In scanning through everything, and comparing images and postings, I have reason to believe that there were only a few people, masquerading as a lot more and reeling in vulnerable kids like Milla.  I also suspect that some may have been “killed off” to lure kids in even deeper with an end goal I can only shudder to imagine.  

Admittedly, my initial reaction was to feel paralyzed and shocked.

I tried to Google, searching for some answers.  This was so far outside my realm of experience or that of anyone I knew that I didn’t know where to begin. There was very little at this level—nothing that would help me come to terms with what happened. Sure there was plenty of info about cyber-bullying, but it all seemed oversimplified and centered on hurt feelings—nothing this complex. Then my mind started to spin out, thinking that Milla was very well catfished by that little girl who broke her heart. What if she was a little girl caught up in it too, brainwashed and pressured to recruit other kids?
I understand I’m sounding completely crazy, but with so little information I’m left only with speculation and my own detective work. But wouldn’t you agree that I have enough info though, to make me scour all phones and profiles, delete photos, accounts, apps and block people and phone numbers that aren’t family or known friends? And even so, the devices I’m most concerned about—Milla’s—are sitting, powered off. Those deserve a good cooling off in solitude.

How do any of us really know what they are doing on their social media?

We are caught between letting them find their own way around as we learn to let go, and letting them loose in uncharted and unregulated territories.  It’s the wild, wild west out there, and I had been letting Milla—and almost all of my kids really, explore it solo. I would love to give all of the above the benefit of the doubt, but at the risk of losing my child? No way in hell do I take that risk.
I know this feels like punishment to her. I have reinforced otherwise and tried to reduce all of this to the simple example stated above: It’s time to just go outside and play, to reestablish yourself with your friends, and yes, even go talk to someone professional about what happened—to return to ground zero and rebuild.
If anyone has had a similar experience or any kind of advice, please, please share in the comments below–not only would I appreciate hearing from you, but I really kind of need it right now.
Your personal firewall,
So Called Mom