Last week I watched a social experiment on YouTube. The host of the video asked several parents for permission to see how they would react to a stranger. The thing is, this wasn’t elementary school kids at a park. They weren’t being lured by candy or balloons. This was teenagers on social media. This first video in particular, focused on girls. A fake account was created with the profile photo of a teenage boy. The video host then talked to the girls for a few days and tried to see if they would meet up with him. One girl met him at a local park only to find her dad was there waiting as well. Another girl, just 12 years old invited him over to her house once she thought her dad was asleep. In a different video, another 12-year-old girl was out playing Pokemon and got into the car of an older man who said he’d help her catch a rare one.
Those videos really made me think because all of the parents in the video hoped their daughter would be “the one”. Their daughter would remember what her parents taught her and make a good decision when presented with the opportunity. None of those girls did. Thankfully it was merely a social experiment but it really made me wonder if what I do is enough. I talk to my daughter, not just at her but with her. I listen to her and present her with scenarios. I do what I can to cultivate an open relationship. The thing is, at the end of the day she has to know how to make tough choices on a daily basis. Sometimes, we don’t realize the importance of our choices in the moment. Sometimes what seems innocent and small is anything but.
As a parent, I think it’s very important to teach my children how to think and not what to think. I don’t want them to listen to me for the sake of complying. I want them to understand so that when I’m not present, they have the practice of making choices that will hopefully enable them to make good decisions whether I’m there to support them in the moment or not.
I showed my daughter a couple of those videos so she could see just how normal those situations appear. She observed how trusting those teenage girls were with a cute boy they’d never met. They had no clue if the person was that teenage boy in reality. She watched how a girl got caught up in her game and completely forgot the rules her dad reminded her of just moments ago on the phone. I’ve been in a situation that tested her without us knowing. In a post last year, I mentioned a neighbor who asked my daughter to come look at something in the trunk of her car. I’m so thankful that she chose to keep her distance and ran off to catch up with her friends.
I wasn’t able to talk to my neighbor until I ran into her boyfriend several months later who said he didn’t recall the incident. His girlfriend is a veterinary assistant so he could only imagine it had something to do with pets. Once he said it out loud I think he realized how the situation looked. I told him we talk to our girls and teach them boundaries to keep them safe and that scenario made all of the alarm bells sound that day. He understood and we continue our distant but friendly neighbor relationship.
My girls are still too young to have their own social media accounts but I’m teaching my oldest about the dangers of it now. I can’t wait until she’s a teenager to talk about it. I’m showing her now the things that can happen and the importance of being safe. I understand it can be tempting to accept every friend request but if you don’t actually know someone it probably isn’t a good idea to give them access to so much information about your life. My daughter loves to watch YouTube videos and she’s not allowed to interact with people that comment. She understands why and when she wants to leave a comment on a video, she lets me look it over before she posts it. I know she’ll eventually outgrow this phase so I have to make sure she understands why I have her be cautious instead of her doing something because she’s told to.
I just want to encourage you today to talk to your kids. This isn’t a scenario that is taught in a day. This is something to be discussed openly as often as needed. I’ll leave you with one of the videos for you to watch and then watch with your children. Please ask them questions and let them share what they get out of the scenarios. Use this as a conversation prompt.
What are your thoughts? How do you teach your children about this topic? I’d love to hear, feel free to share in the comments!