Internet Safey - Then vs. Now

I remember when my parents got our first computer with internet. We had AOL and it was a big deal. I still remember the sound of the modem dialing up, the anticipation of "chatting" with someone, seeing my name pop up on a list of people who were also on the internet. I was in junior high. My parents didn't know what I was up to. I was always a night owl, usually reading, but when the rest of the lights would go out, I'd creep into the basement and play with the new computer. Sometimes it was Sim City or Zelda, usually it was the internet.

There was a guy who would pop up and talk to me. I assumed we were the same age, but the interaction must have been basic and slow, given my junior high level of communication and two-fingered typing skills. I recall we talked a couple of times, nothing major and then he asked for my phone number. I gave it to him. Internet security and safety didn't seem to be a big deal in the early 90's. Anyway, he called me and I remember answering the phone and hearing a far older voice than I was prepared to hear. Instantly, I knew a line was crossed, but he was in California and I was in junior high, it seemed to me that nothing could go wrong. And it didn't. Maybe he didn't realize how young I was, but he likely did. I knew I shouldn't talk to him, that my mom would flip out if she heard his voice, so I told him not to call me anymore.

We continued to talk online, but not on the phone. I was clearly freaked out by the depth of his voice and somehow the internet felt safer. Then a package showed up. Now, I don't remember if I gave him my mailing address, maybe I did? It included photos of him and a sweatshirt from his university. That's right. UNIVERSITY. He was over the age of 18. I was probably 12 and I'm sure I sounded like it. My mom saw the package and communication halted immediately. My choice as well. I didn't know exactly what I was doing, but I knew it couldn't be good. I don't believe I ever signed on to chat again. I was spooked enough by the weirdness of the situation, I didn't even need to watch an episode of the Dateline sting operations cornering internet predators.

When I think of the situation, I still get slightly nauseated. It gets worse when I think of it in context of my own child. What will the internet have in store for him? There were no photos of me online at the time, someone had to really work to find me, but now it's all out there. Even as adults, we're at risk. One of my nearest and dearest is right now dealing with some unwanted internet attention from someone who is anonymously harassing her, but knows a ton about her life. She has a blog and her name and profile are on her company site. It wasn't hard to find information about her. You can find her on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn... But, aren't these the basics sites that everyone is on? It's scary to think that someone is trolling these sites for personal information used to harass her. That's scary for a 31 year-old adult. What will it be in 10 years when I have a 12 year-old on my hands?

I've learned my lesson and try really hard not to list the things "I'll never do." I can't say I'll never let my son go on a computer without supervision or that I'll never let him have an account with whatever social media tool is all the rage. I can't say I'll always use the parental controls or check his online activity every night or keep all of our family's computers in common areas or insist that he play a board game with me instead of games on the computer.

But, I know I'll try as hard as I can to keep him safe, to give him the confidence to make good judgements. And I know I'll remember that uneasy feeling I got when I heard that too-deep voice and saw the photos of someone I knew I shouldn't be chatting with. My red flags went up, but that doesn't mean that every kid's does.

This post was inspired by National Internet Safety Month, which was the Yahoo! Motherboard topic this month.


Tracey - Just Another Mommy Blog said...

Another thing I try to remember with my own 11 year old (yikes!) is that I'd rather he stumble upon something untoward NOW when I CAN ground the hell out of him or have him still come to me with questions rather than when he' 14 or older and thinking he's too old for being mothered...

Windtraveler said...

Ugh. I shudder to think what it will be like in 10 years, honestly. People need to be aware of how much information is out there about them and monitor it. V. ironic that it's national internet safety month! Great post! xoxo
PS. i had no idea you were an AOL chatterbox and got a package from a dude in cali!?! how did i not know that!?!