That week in the spring really did bring out the crazy around here. Bear’s rap lyrics were fabulous, while T-man’s question knocked me for a loop. If you haven’t already read “you wanna know WHAT?!” — part 1, you might want to do that before reading on.
So it had already been a rough couple of days. Frankly, I felt I’d paid my dues and earned some time off the tough questions for at least a week or two, but apparently the universe did not agree. Because the very next night I found myself embroiled in another t-a-l-k with T-man that gave me the willies.
Unfortunately, these willies came from an entirely different place.
I’d gone into T-man’s room to tuck him in and he said, “You said we’d keep talking tonight.”
I was exhausted. Whipped. Worn out from the previous night’s detailed exploration of an extremely personal topic. So I was all, “Oh, no…I meant if you had any more questions I’d be happy to talk about them. Do you have any more questions?”
T-man said he didn’t and for the tiniest moment I thought I’d dodged a bullet. But then I remembered that I had a question of my own.
The previous night he’d told me that he heard the word “masturbation” in a Minecraft chat room but didn’t know what it meant. I let the source go at the time so we could tackle the curiosity angle, but I knew we needed to go back and address it.
So I asked him to explain the whole Minecraft thing. I told him I understood the game itself (well, kind of), but not the technology and culture surrounding it.
If you are blessed not to be around boys of a certain age, or kids who enjoy gaming, or basically anyone under the age of 17 right now, you probably have been spared the Minecraft experience. Simply put, I don’t get it. It’s kind of like Legos, only electronic ones. They build things – ships, houses, cars, whatever – and apparently can wander around each other’s worlds if they link up. Let’s just say the game’s appeal eludes me. You know…’cause I’m old.
Long story short, he was in a Minecraft chat room. (We’ll set aside the fact that he isn’t allowed in chat rooms for another discussion.) They allow four users in at a time, people who are identified by their user names and information they give out. According to T-man, there was a “14-year-old guy” in the room asking another user “lots of questions” about personal things like had he gone through puberty yet, had he had The Talk yet, did he masturbate…and that the 14-year-old kept asking questions even though the other user never answered.
Talk about your holy $#@! moments. Suddenly I had the worst creepy crawly feeling in my stomach.
Because now I’m thinking we’re not just dealing with horny teenage boys showing off on the internet for younger players. Maybe we’re dealing with something a whole lot worse.
I took a deep breath (I do that a lot in there) and started a long and very serious talk with T-man about internet safety – that being safe doesn’t just mean not giving out your name and address – that there are other ways strangers creep into your life and make you feel comfortable with them.
I told him about child molesters, and why a Minecraft chat room is a perfect hunting ground for them. How one “harmless” answer to a personal question can snowball into a relationship that sneaks up on you, and before you know what’s happened it seems perfectly normal to be talking about your sex life with a stranger. Then when they suggest meeting up somewhere you think it’s a great idea because you’ve been talking online for months so you’re friends, right?
And God bless him, there was actual surprise in T-man’s eyes when I pointed out that a “14-year-old guy” in a chat room might actually be a 45-year-old man (“Ewww!”) from South Carolina or a 32-year-old man from New York or a neighbor down the street who’s pretending to be a stranger. That anyone on the Internet can be anyone or anything they’d like to be.
Because the internet is a wonderful and amazing thing. Until it isn’t. And if you’re not careful to remember that the internet lets everybody on, not just the good people but the bad people too, then bad things can happen.
Tuck-ins bring some of the best conversations around here, but they also bring some of the hardest ones. I can only hope that some of this sits in his subconscious while he sleeps…