Over the last year, my 12-year-old daughter befriended a high-school aged friend–we’ll call them Gamer Friend–while playing Minecraft online. After speaking with Gamer Friend multiple times via Facetime alongside my daughter, I had become fairly comfortable with their interactions and friendship.
Then came the day that my ex-husband’s partner noticed some inappropriate photos my child had posted on Discord, tagging another online friend. Nothing too crazy but it was clear there was a blossoming “love story” happening. I flipped.
As a normal parent, it would have been enough to do me in.
But as a survivor of childhood molestation, my anxiety hit the roof. I was terrified for my daughter.
What if the person on the other end–we’ll call them Love Interest–is a pedophile? My worst fear is that my daughter will have similar experiences to mine. Life has been tough for me at times, and I’m all about ending that legacy. Zip. Zero.
I understand she has to learn her own lessons, but I’m desperate to ensure she does not suffer abuse in doing so. I decided to contact the two people I was aware of my daughter engaging with online: Gamer Friend and Love Interest.
It was easy to find Gamer Friend’s parents online. I contacted them both, one through LinkedIn and the other through Instagram. The father got back to me right away on LinkedIn, and we exchanged numbers. He agreed to do a FaceTime meeting with my husband and me, right then. They live in Reno, and he works at a top technology company in a senior-level role. As we spoke with him, we learned more about his family and Gamer Friend, who at one point came onto FaceTime to talk to me as well.
I liked them. I started to calm down.
But then I remembered Love Interest.
We got the contact details for Love Interest and started FaceTime. Love Interest did not want to be on the screen, although they would speak to us. Then Love Interest questioned why we wanted their parent’s phone number. When we insisted, Love Interest hung up on us.
Yes, I can easily imagine that this was a kid who was just as freaked out as I was.
But I could also imagine that this was someone grooming my child to lure her to a meeting place to do unspeakable things to her.
[In case you are wondering, this marked the beginning of the Great Device & Internet Grounding of December 2021. It will be forever etched in my poor, poor daughter’s memory… but I digress.]
Since then, I arranged a time for us all to meet Gamer Friend and her family. We live in the Bay Area of California, so it gave us an excellent excuse to book a Lake Tahoe ski trip. They are lovely people, thank goodness. My paranoia in their case was unfounded.
Yet I’ll admit that, while my daughter and I were waiting for them to arrive at our meeting place in Tahoe, I had an over-the-top moment when I suddenly worried they’d be serial killers, showing up with murderous intent.
Without noticing it, I found my phone in my hand, texting my husband. He was up on the mountain skiing, so there would have been nothing he could do if my thinking was correct. We were in a safe space, with people nearby — it was ridiculous. (Eye rolls are welcome here.)
But what about Love Interest? Gone. Like the wind.
Since then, I spoke with a child psychiatrist who told me about the staggering increase, particularly during the pandemic, in online grooming and luring of kids for nefarious purposes. She explained that pre-teen and early teen children are especially vulnerable to online pedophiles’ tactics, that it is especially bad for girls because they are at a stage when they need to feel loved and don’t have lots of confidence built up yet. The lesson here? My paranoia is both a blessing and a curse.
On one hand, my imagination tends to be worse than reality.
On the other hand, totally legit.
What do you think? How would you have handled the situation if it were your kid? Join the discussion through the comments here.