UPDATED 10/31: Learn more about how the author's daughter was propositioned for sex while playing in a kid-friendly world within Minecraft – as well as her surprise at the backlash caused by this piece.
Take a minute to Google "Minecraft + sex mod." I'll wait.
Did your brain explode? Because when I found out that this was a thing, not only did my brain explode, but my heart did as well. Unfortunately, it was my kid who filled me in.
I was going about my business when I suddenly found myself looking into the tearful eyes of one of my babies who was telling me that, not only was this kid playing Minecraft when she saw this, but she was also propositioned in this "creative mode" room by another player.
This child was crushed. She opened up, and told me about the things that appear in apps. She shared a lot about how she was feeling as a result of this experience that made me want to weep and weep.
The virtual world is so real to our kids. She felt like it had actually happened to her in real life. It could not be shrugged off. She actually wanted me to take away her phone, the portal to this hurt. There were many tears, half of them from me. All I could do was apologize for not protecting her better.
Because the truth is, it's all my fault.
I thought I was doing my due diligence in the technology department. We pay attention to how much time they spend online and limit it as well, even detoxing completely from time to time. We keep the apps they used restricted to the 10 and under age range, and Minecraft falls into this category.
And still this happened. Because, sadly where the kids are, the creepers will follow. (Minecraft pun intended.) And the creepers found my baby.
In that moment, I came face-to-face with the fact that, because I'd not been paying attention, my child had been in harm's way. Technology allows the world at-large into our homes, there are parts of the world you can't imagine, and they'll come in if you let them. Had she been a different kid, this could have been much much worse.
After locking down her phone, I did a little research, and here's what I found.
My first thought was to head for the hills immediately. Perhaps become Amish. But the fact of the matter is, this is the world we live in. Kids often have devices in their hands during the school day, too, or will come in contact with them through their friends, even if we take theirs away.
We cannot live in a bubble, we need to be real about what our kids are exposed to. We need to learn to guide them through, and we need to keep the safe.
It's not easy to shut down our kids' online experience. Safety filters cost money, data, and sometimes lock down the more innocent things our kids want to do, like play Minecraft in a world with their buddies.
There's no one-size-fits-all "set it and forget it" safety app. We have to be all in: frequent checks of all devices in the home, an extra app to see deleted texts, and closing all games that are social.
Safety apps can't do it all, I frequently check the device as well. We set all restrictions to PG or better, eliminating obvious dangers. YouTube offers restriction settings, and we use those. Especially after what happened, closing all public chat rooms just makes sense. The kids have figured out how they can still create interactive play with their friends, without letting in the general public.
I thought I knew what was going on, this happened to my kiddo when she was at home, during the day, just sitting on her bed.
Now that the blinders are off, all Minecraft (and other playtime) happen only in the common areas. It's much harder for curiosity to get the best of us when sitting in a room with mom or dad.
Kids are also more likely to show you on the spot if something questionable pops up. I ask them about what they're playing, and with whom. Is there chatting happening in games? Who can see what you are doing? Do you know the people you're playing with?
Can we really open up a world of temptation to kids and adolescents and expect them to make 100% great choices? Think back to your own childhood. Now answer. Exactly...we cannot.
A room full of 13-year-old boys with iPads at a sleepover might just be tempted to venture beyond the walls of their made up Minecraft world, and we need to be ready. All the apps that kids download show up on my phone, and I open and play these apps myself. This has led to me deleting some things I thought "looked safe" and ended my freak-out about apps that I thought no child should have.
Our newest (and not super popular) rule is that all iPads and technology get handed in at 9 p.m. at sleepovers. Devices spend the night in my room. There's no reason for anyone to be online in the dead of night. Tell some ghost stories, kids.
I've learned that it's clearly not enough to limit screen time and say, "I've done my job." We must do a deep dive into what our kids are doing, what different apps allow, what it looks like to hang out on YouTube, or Minecraft, or in any online community. We need to check new apps on a review site like Common Sense Media (also great for movies and books). We need to be aware of which apps might be dangerous, and find out who our kids are texting or communicating with through chats in games.
Just as we wouldn't drop our kids off in the middle of a city we've never been to, we cannot drop them off online in the middle of a virtual world we're don't know much about.
I'm now a digital explorer. If my kid wants a Musical.ly account, then I get one too. I spend time figuring it out, and friending or following them. We talk about what they see there. I delete things that I don't believe are good or safe, and I don't care if they hate me.
My goal is to find a way for us all to navigate this online world safely. It will keep changing and so I'll need to as well. We cannot, however, just consult a list of good and bad apps, set up their devices, and walk away. The digital world changes way too fast for this approach. It's up to us to find out what our kids are into, investigate, play along, explore, and talk to our kids about each app and every website.
Sound overwhelming? It is. But the consequences of not following through here are too big to ignore. If we're going to put the world at the literal fingertips of our children, we must join them there. Their young hearts and minds depend on us to see them safely through.