Real Life Lessons from a Virtual World

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.


  1. says

    I am always shocked how little people supervise their kids online! Porn is so accessible. Boys in that age group are especially vunerable especially when given free reign. And yes, Facebook takes a certain maturity to handle as well. Such a timely article. Our computer was always in the Dining Room, facing out so we could see the screen and the kids weren’t allowed to go on when we weren’t home. And they STILL went to sites they weren’t supposed to…what do kids do that are unsupervised?

    • says

      I think it’s just like the real world: you can only protect them from so much, supervise them so much. They will do unsafe things. But we at least have to TRY!

  2. afterthekidsleave says

    Absolutely dead on. We made a policy of staying open to any topic our kids wanted to discuss, and it has really led to some great teachable moments. Good for you–and for her!

  3. says

    I hope your daughter is ok. I think that you handled the situation very well. Now, how is she going to trust a real guy down the road, when even the virtual ones are creeps. Good thing she has great parents.

  4. rachel backngroovemom says

    NANCY – thank you for sharing. We recently had several online meetups and occurrences among our tween family members that proved to be valuable lessons. I am with you – I am glad they happened in a way that could provide an “after school moment.”
    I can see the conversation must be kept alive and ongoing.
    I can also say that 11 year old boys are not as mature as they think and there is reason why fantasy football is meant for adults….on some many fronts from the chat room to everything else.

  5. says

    Today Jake was joining a site and asked me to help him come up with a username, since all of his favorites were taken. I suggested one that had his name in it, and he rolled his eyes and said “I’m not supposed to use usernames that have my real name in it. YOU told me that.” Oops. 🙂

  6. says

    Im willing to bet the game in question is RedLightCenter. Sure sounds like it. Regardless most virtual worlds are pay to play and have a plethora of sexual content. If you’re allowing your child to play, you’re contributing to the harm they could be exposed to. People have profile photos, photo messaging abilities, video streaming. So whos to say your child couldnt get into a private chat when youre not around and that man in leather could end up exposing himself to your child. Only virutal harm? I think not! You should be ashamed!

    • says

      You’d lose your bet. There is zero ability to communicate with real photos or videos. And the point of the post is that despite any parent’s best efforts, and what you “let” your children may end up on sites you won’t like. There is no shame in that, it’s reality. Your best defense is to hope they know better, and that you’ve left the doors of communication open.

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