A Threesome in an App Rated 9+. What?

Last month, my then 9yo son was playing a 9+ app — a cool little bunny app called “Bunny Evolution.” I can find nothing inappropriate with the game, and there is no connectivity to other players which makes it an ideal app for younger kids.

However, as my little boy was playing the harmless bunny app, these ads popped up for another app called, “Choices.”

As you can see from the top picture, a girl’s boyfriend is cheating on her with another man. One of the options is to join them for a threesome. Join them?!?!

Parent alert: Ads can pop-up in games and are not restricted to the same age category as the app your child is playing.

Here is a description of the “Choices” app:

Parent alert: Age ratings are sometimes incorrect. The Choices app (which have these scenarios) are rated 12+. I’m sorry, no. In my opinion, that’s not appropriate for a 6th or 7th grader. Not even close

I know a post like this can raise a lot of fear in parents. Trust me, I’ve tried to bubble-wrap my kids. I’ve tried to say “no” to all technology. It didn’t work. My kids were still exposed to things from other kids. But, please don’t panic. I’ve found the solution is to create a culture of open communication in our homes. It sounds so simple, but the process of getting our kids to tell us what they’re really seeing and hearing online is a complicated process. I wrote a whole book about it. You can read the intro for free by clicking here.

By the way, my son reported all of this to me immediately. I told him, “I’m so proud of you for telling me and protecting your own heart and mind.” I’m not going to punish him and take away technology when he did everything right.

Do you have a similar story about ads in apps? If you do, please leave a comment and screenshots, if you have them.

Cyberparenting has blindsided all of us. We need to work together. Connect with us at nextTalk, a nonprofit organization providing practical solutions on how to keep our kids safe online.

Mom Confession: My Kid’s Attitude is My Fault

A couple weeks ago, I noticed a certain sass in one of my kids. I told my husband about the situation and how I was worried about the attitude. He politely and calmly said, “Honey, I don’t think that’s sass. I think it’s tone. It sounds like you.”

I wanted to go ballistic. Crazy wife mode was imminent!

Thankfully, I’ve learned to control what I say on this journey and did not respond with the first influx of feelings. I refrained. I was ticked off, though. Defensive in my head. I felt like he had no idea how much I was juggling. I actually thought, “Even if I have tone, cut me some slack!”

A couple days later, I was still internally struggling with that conversation. TBH, reeling. Anger building in my head that would explode, if left unchecked.

I had to stop the unhealthy cycle. It was time to pause and pray. I said something like this, “God, please show me the tone, if I actually have it.”

(Don’t you love the “if I actually have it” line I added to that prayer? So humanlike. So me.)

After that prayer, it was like my blinders were taken off. I could see myself clearly, and it hurt. There were multiple times when I was talking to my children, and I witnessed the unflattering tone he had been referring to. It wasn’t yelling. It wasn’t anger. It was condescending and downright rude.

Oh, it hurts to write that. Deeply.

One day, I asked my son to roll down the window when we were parked in the driveway so I could give him something. He opened the door (and nearly hit me in the gut at the same time). I didn’t yell, but I responded with the tone. I didn’t call him stupid, but my tone implied it. I saw the hurt in his eyes.

Hours later, I apologized to my son.

There have been more instances with both my teen daughter and my husband. I’ll spare you the details, but it became very apparent to me — I have a problem with tone. And, I’m passing it onto my children.

I became emotional telling my husband that God had clearly shown me a fault I needed to fix. Fighting back the tears, I said, “I can’t believe you’ve had to live with this for twenty years, and you’ve never pointed it out to me.”

He said, “You’re worth it. Besides, I’m working on my own faults.”

Was that it? A recognition of a fault and then I fixed it? I wish it were that simple.

I’m still struggling with tone. It is so difficult to break a habit that you didn’t even realize you had. It’s THAT engrained in my personality.

Can we just stop right here?

Old Me would’ve swept this under the rug and chalked it up to “It’s just who I am.”

New Me can’t because I know the stakes are too high.

You see, if I don’t change this flaw, it creates walls in my relationships.

I want my kids to tell me everything they’re seeing and hearing in their online worlds. No time in history is the relationship between parent and child so important. Remember when I wrote in my book, “God showed me that if I wanted my whole family dynamic to change, it was going to require me to look in the mirror.”

This is yet another example of what that looks like. It stings.

I need to be able to identify my flaws and fix them. Or else, I pass them onto my kids.

Flaws can be little things or HUGE things — bad spending habits, tone, addiction, cussing, unhealthy relationships, RACISM. What bad things are you passing onto your kids?

This. is. important.

We must be able to recognize cycles or patterns we’ve picked up that need to change. Many of us (me!) don’t want to change because it requires hard work.

You may not want to do the hard work for yourself. I’m asking you do it for your kids.

One evening during dinner, I told my kids that I recognized my condescending tone. I was vulnerable. Open and honest. They knew it truly bothered me. I let them in on my struggle, and I asked them to hold me accountable.

Guess what happened? My kids followed my lead and recognized things they needed to work on too! Do you see how this works?

Kids model us. They watch. They listen. They repeat. Even the flaws.

Since then, it’s been tough. I cringe when my kids point out the tone. I’m thankful for my husband. The other day, I had to put on my disciplinarian face because my kids weren’t doing what I asked (we are all ready for school to start). I didn’t yell, but I had to be stern. My husband later told me, “You disciplined without tone. That was perfect!”

And I completely recognized the difference.

So my challenge to you is: what are you passing down to your kids that you don’t want to? Now’s the time to face it and put in the hard work. Your kids are worth it. And always know, I’m facing my own things right along with you. In it, together.

 

Blue Whale Challenge: Online Game Leading to Suicide?

Before we go into panic mode, let’s breathe. Our first response cannot be fear and emotion. Remember: remain calm.

First, I want to give you the background and context from where this post is coming from. I want to share some research we’ve been conducting at our nonprofit (nextTalk) on this challenge.

This was first brought to our attention last month. This is the article we received claiming this “game” had led to an increase in teen suicides:

Parents Warned in the UK about New Suicide Game

Our team went to work researching and talking with local parents to see if they’d heard of the game. We researched on Snopes, and even though it was marked as “Unproven” there were details given to explain where the game originated and details about how it works. You can review the Snopes article by clicking here. In my interpretation and opinion, Snopes can’t prove that the game has actually led to an increase in suicides, but they can confirm the game (and games like it) do exist.

We didn’t share last month because we could find no substantiated claims in the U.S. However, now there is breaking news reports that this game has surfaced in Alabama.

Due to this new development, we decided to post applicable links on our nextTalk FB page last night.

Before we move on, I want to cover one point. It was reported with the Alabama story that there is an app to download. We cannot find an app. I have my suspicions that it was reported incorrectly. We know the pattern. Kids communicate within apps. We are likely to find secret challenges such as these in closed groups, group snaps (which automatically disappear but can be screenshot), DMs (direct messages), etc. That’s why monitoring text messages doesn’t work anymore. It’s important to note that most people, including myself, don’t intentionally communicate within apps to hide things, it’s just the new way of talking. For example, I love Snapchat because it doesn’t take up all my storage!

Back to the Blue Whale Game. How did I address it with my teen? Because we continually talk about everything (including stuff in the online world), we had a simple conversation on the way to school:

Me: “Hey, have you heard about this blue whale challenge?”
Teen: “Nope. What’s it about?”
Me: “Well, a person asks you to complete tasks. They may start out as simple requests like listening to a song or posting a weird picture, but there are reports that it turns into self-harming and then the ultimate challenge is suicide.”
Teen: “Sounds a lot like the grooming we talk about.”
Me:  “Yes. Good comparison. Whether this challenge becomes widespread or not or is even true, the key here is to never be manipulated or controlled by someone, especially online.”

If parents get ahead of this sick challenge, it’s likely kids won’t think it’s cool. They’ll move on to something else. So, this post is not just about this game. Whether it becomes a twisted trend, disappears quickly or is even a complete hoax, we need to look at the bigger picture. No matter what fad is happening right now, parenting has changed. “13 Reasons Why” was yesterday. Today is the “Blue Whale” challenge. Tomorrow, it will be something else.

This is not about parenting one app, game or issue. This is an opportunity to build open communication with our kids so they won’t fall prey to online manipulation.

How does my teen even know about “grooming?” We continually talk about it. This relationship didn’t naturally happen. After many mistakes, I realized I needed to be very intentional and proactive about building a safe place for her.  We started way before she had her own phone.

For example, we discuss how online predators groom their victims. They are patient and nice. They give gifts. They are the “secret online pal.” They sometimes meet up with the child & do nothing. They know how to build trust. When parents find out about the relationship, the parents are rightfully upset. Then, there is the perfect set-up for the predator to swoop-in & tell the child “Your parents are so mean. But, you’ve got me. I’m the only one in your corner. I’m the only one who understands.” And then, the parents are the bad guys. When the young innocent child feels safe with the predator, they often run away together. Manipulate them. Use them for sex trafficking. Now, we’re seeing coercion into cutting and suicide. Online manipulation has many forms.

This is dark. It is happening all around us to good kids with loving parents. Our kids are being manipulated by evil. Sometimes, these convos are happening on their devices as they’re sitting right next to us on the family sectional!

Right about now, you may be feeling sick to your stomach … How in the world do I keep up with all this? Every day, there’s something else in the online world that I need to talk to my kids about.

First of all, you are not alone. Cyberparenting has blindsided all of us. We’re the first generation of parents to deal with this. We can’t call our parents and ask advice on how to handle the digital world. Everything is happening faster. Questions are coming earlier from our kids. All because of online exposure and the rapidly-changing technology at our fingertips. There is a shift in parenting we must recognize. Once I recognized it, I thought, Okay, I understand. But, how do I parent it?

Here’s what I can tell you. There is absolutely no way to keep up with every app, challenge, DM, snap, etc. It is impossible. So, what is the answer? The first line of defense is the relationship with your child. A healthy, ongoing dialogue. Know your child. Once you build that foundation of trust, there is no more fear about what they are seeing and hearing … because they will ask you.

When I had my lightbulb moment four years ago, I realized I had totally missed it. Our relationship was good, but we were not talking about the online world. I cover our story and give details about how we turned things around in my newly released book, TALK: A Practical Approach to Cyberparenting and Open Communication. In fact, I specifically address four things you need to discuss with your children before they get social media in Chapter 10. One of these topics is cyberstrangers. This conversation needs to start early.

Talk before they get a phone. With my youngest, he is nine and does not have a phone. But, we do have a family iPad. He’s into gaming. So, we talk about “chat features” in gaming and how we don’t communicate with strangers. They could lie and say they’re 9 or 10, but could actually be a 60-year-old bad guy. I talk casually over meals, in the car, etc. so I don’t create anxiety or fear, but bring awareness to this danger. I roleplay with him on how to respond if a stranger reaches out to him in a game. We have a family guideline that all account names have to be fake. No real names. I specifically tell him, “Don’t tell anyone where you go to school, where we live, your real name, etc.”

Explain the dangers of cyberstrangers. One thing we always say to our kids, “You wouldn’t open the front door of our house to a stranger without mom or dad so do not talk, text, comment, snap, DM or otherwise communicate with a stranger online.” We never know the intention of the person behind the screen. Always take precaution.

Remain calm. When your child shows you anything inappropriate s/he sees online (like pornography), it’s important to be calm. A crazy-mom response that I’ve been guilty of is, “No more technology. Delete that app.” That creates a wall in the relationship. Then, the child wants to report nothing because they don’t want to lose technology. Instead, I’ve learned to respond with, “I’m so proud of you for telling me. Let’s talk about this.” (I have a whole pornography chapter too!) FYI, my teen daughter has been contacted multiple times by strangers trying to communicate. When she reports that to me, I’ve learned to always respond with, “Wow. I’m so proud of you. This is what I’m talking about. I can trust you to navigate yourself through the online world because you’re prepared.”

Don’t get overwhelmed. I want to end with this. We are in this together. Let’s not be overwhelmed. Instead, let’s pour time and energy to build the foundation for open communication with our kids. Then, and only then, we will have nothing to fear online because we’re talking about everything.

We are all struggling. I promise, you are not alone. Our nonprofit is continually providing updated resources for you on this cyberparenting journey. We just launched nextTalk Radio last week. If you’re in San Antonio, tune in to AM630 every Saturday morning at 10a. My co-host, Kim Elerick and I will be discussing all the things we’re struggling with today. If you’re not in San Antonio, podcasts will be coming soon on our website. Stay tuned!