Just last week in the UK a man was jailed for the abduction and rape of a 12 year old girl he had met online. He had pretended to be a teenage girl, and over several months had groomed his victim on a social networking site until he was able to lure her into meeting him.
I hate horror stories like that. I hate that they actually happen. Not frequently, but enough to make all parents super conscious of what their little ones are up to when they are playing games or using social media.
So when, 5 years ago, our then 9 year old started talking about her new on line friend, Fox, who she had met in the game “Perfect World” we were naturally concerned.
Who was this “Fox”?
Where did she live?
What did they talk about?
Our daughter looked at us as if we were mad.
We were savvy parents. We knew all the rules. Don’t give out your number. Don’t tell anyone where you live. On NO account arrange to meet anyone.
The online friendship continued.
This girl with the screen name “Fox” and our daughter,(screen name “Eli”) started to meet up daily. In little bubbles that appeared above their avatar’s heads whole dialogues were taking place. Little by little these two were getting to know each other.
We learned her real name. That in itself caused suspicion as it matched that of a famous singer and actress. And was also our daughters first name.
Those scary news stories were flashing through my head. Was this really a little girl, or was it a sex monster? How did we know?
Our daughter shook her head, rolled her eyes and carried on.
With our knowledge but also with trepidation, boundaries were crossed: emails were exchanged. Skype addresses were swapped. Then phone numbers.
And inevitably, in this technologically advanced world, they wanted to chat face to face. So we set up the webcam and waited. And there she was. A cute little girl with pigtails and a cheeky grin. And behind her in the background, looking rather anxious (as probably were we), her mother.
And so, now we knew it was safe, the friendship grew. The girls would chat on all forms of social media, from facebook to gaming sites to AIM to Skype to texting to cellphone. Anything and everything. Every day. Sometimes at night. In times of sadness and times of joy, they would be there for each other. And I even got to be facebook friends with her mother.
And last weekend, after many many months of asking, we finally got them together. I drove my now 14 year girl 4 hours to virginia Beach to meet up with her best friend.
And that first physical meeting in the parking lot of the Oceanfront Inn I will never forget. Like a scene from all the best movies, those girls ran across the lot and into each others arms.
Sometimes good things do come from the internet. Very good things.