I grew up in a time where there was no social media, no cell phones, no tablets and for a time, no home computers. You made friends and played with the neighborhood kids. You had friends from school or from church. Maybe you played with cousins or kids on your sports team or from girl scouts or boy scouts.
Nowadays, kids still find friends in these places. But now, there is another place to make friends – online. In the age of computers and social media, our kids are exploring a world that I didn’t have growing up. They now can meet people while playing online games or on social media.
Lexie and Jase both know people in Minnesota and Virginia and who knows where else. Lexie chats with her friends online or facetimes them. Most of Jace’s interaction takes place while he is playing online video games.
With these distant relationships comes concerns. Are the people on the other side who they say they are? Is Lexie really speaking with another teenager? Or is it someone only pretending to be one?
We have gone over – multiple times – not to divulge personal info to their online friends and not to take at face value anything that they are told online. They know that the person on the other side may not be who they said they are. I’ve listened in on their conversations, and I’ve seen several of the kids on Facetime. I can verify they are students my kids age.
Lexie and one of her friends exchanged Christmas presents this past year. And she has mentioned wanting to meet some of these friends in person but when she talks about it, she talks about her and I meeting up with them. She knows never to make plans to meet them without me around and if for any reason one of them showed up in our city or outside her school, she is not to meet with them or go any where with them.
And if anyone does anything she is uncomfortable with or asks her to do anything she shouldn’t be doing such as sending photos or giving out personal information, she knows to tell me and if necessary to block them from contacting her again. As I am writing this, I once again had a discussion with both kids about the people they meet online and the rules. But, they really have been just hanging out with the same friends for the past few years. There hasn’t been anyone new.
Of course with any friendship, there has been ups and downs. I say this more about Lexie’s friends as Jase really just plays video game missions with his online pals. But Lexie chats with hers so there is bound to be drama. But we handle that the same way we would if they were friends who lived in our neighborhood.
I encourage my kids to hang out with their local friends too. They need that in-person connection and to learn to handle those type of social situations. But, I also am glad they are meeting friends who live in different locations and have different backgrounds. It certainly isn’t something I would have imagined doing with such ease when I was a child. But then again, if I had a distant pen pal, they would have had my address and we would have thought nothing of it. Gee, how times have changed.