The Big Thirteen
Social media is a wonderful tool that allows people to find strangers with similar interests and make connections. However, just like every other tool, there are plenty of people looking to exploit those they meet online for nefarious reasons.
Molly woke up on the morning of her 13th birthday feeling enthused and excited. She kicked off the blankets and ran downstairs into the kitchen where she found her mother and father waiting for her. “Surprise!” they shouted, and Molly’s mother handed her a small box wrapped in multicolored, balloon-covered paper. Molly tore into the paper with gusto, her eyes going wide at the sight of the latest smartphone.
Molly had wanted her own phone for years, but her parents felt she wasn’t yet old enough. “Maybe when you’re thirteen,” they’d constantly say, delaying the conversation. Well, now that she was thirteen, she was happy her parents had kept their word.
Kids And Their Phones These Days
After showing her friends at school the new phone, Molly immediately went to PicChat, the latest, hottest social media app. She wasn’t able to join the app before because users have to be thirteen to create an account. So, now that Molly was able to, she was raring to get started.
She created her account, entered all of her information, and snapped her first selfie on the phone, uploading it right away to the app. She took some time to follow a few of her friends before stuffing the phone in her pocket and heading to class. Because the school had a no phones policy, Molly had to wait until the afternoon to check her account again.
The final bell rang, and Molly logged into her PicChat account. Most of her friends had followed her back, and she noticed a message in her Private Message box. She clicked on it and found a short message from a user named “HandsomeDan2005.” Molly read the message.
Molly replied, thanking him for his message. He quickly responded back, asking Molly a series of questions about herself.
Over the next few days, Molly and HandsomeDan2005 spoke back and forth every single day. She told him where she went to school, what her hobbies were, the names of her pets. He told Molly his name was Dan, he was 16 years old, and his parents just bought him a car. As Dan told Molly more and more about himself, she started to open up to him. So, when his questions started to become more personal, she provided him with answers.
“We should meet,” he stated one day, out of the blue.
“I’d like that!” Molly replied. “I can have my parents drop me off at the mall.”
“How about I pick you up instead?” Dan offered. “Your parents would have too many questions, and they wouldn’t understand.”
Molly considered this for a moment when another message from Dan popped up. “I can pick you up from school. Just tell your parents that you’re going over a friend’s house.”
“I can do that!” she said. “How about Friday?”
On The Internet, Not Everything Is As It Seems
Molly was excited all through school on Friday over meeting Dan in person. When the final bell rang, she packed up her books and ran across the soccer field to the back of the school. There was a quiet residential street behind the school, far away from the busy pick-up section with the busses and the minivans. She told Dan to meet her there so they wouldn’t have to wait in a line of cars.
A red Toyota was idling in front of a brown house, the exact model of car Dan told Molly to look for. She opened the door and climbed into the passenger’s seat. “Hi, Molly,” she heard a male voice say. She cast a glance to her left and saw a man in a button-down shirt beside her. His hair was greying at the sides and a scraggly beard covered his face. Her eyes widened as the door locks engaged, and with a smile, the man shifted the car into drive.
Though Molly in our story is fictional, events like this occur almost daily. While making friends online can be harmless, not everyone on the internet has good intentions. Molly’s parents, in addition to giving their daughter a new smartphone, would have been better off arming her with the knowledge to spot online predators. Our Online Safety course provides tips to spot sexual predators that would have been helpful for Molly as she explored social media for the first time.