Technology Tuesday: Asterisks and Affection

“I wasn’t sure how I could help, but what I really wanted to do was hug him.”

But not just hug—it was more like *hug*.  

“What does the asterisk mean?”

“It’s when the role play starts.  I wanted to hug him, so when I typed asterisks, it was like I virtually hugged him.  And then things took a bad turn from there.”

“So, people basically write an asterisk sign, and then type whatever it is they want to do with the other person.  And it’s as if they’re doing it with that person.”

“Exactly.”

This week, yet another girl told me a guy who “said he was 16” asked her to send a photo of herself without a shirt on.  (She told me that, when talking about a guy she meets online, she has learned to make sure to include “said he was” a certain age because she doesn’t really know for sure.)

She also said he’s only the 2nd guy to ask her to send an inappropriate photo.  In my mind, that’s already 2 too many.  But it’s also often a reality now with the kids we love, in this world of screens.  So, what can we do?  How can we not only safeguard them but teach them to use discernment themselves?

This girl and I talked about intuition, about how you get a feeling when you’re with certain kinds of people.  And, about how it’s much harder to get those feelings when your relationship is online rather than in person.  

We also talked about how predators often have similarities.  There are certain things they do to lure in their victims—patterns, if you will.  I asked her if she had noticed any kind of pattern between these two different guys.

“Yes,” she emphatically said.  “They both told me they were depressed…that they were having a really hard time.  One asked me if there was anything I could do to give him a reason to live.  When I said, ‘I don’t think so.  What do you mean?’, he said ‘I don’t really know either.’”

Somehow, I think he did…and that he was manipulating her on two counts.  She wisely said both guys were both playing on her sympathy:  manipulation #1.  And he was also luring her to offer the picture, rather than asking for it himself.  In other words, he was after power as well as a sexual relationship:  manipulation #2.  

We need to continue to have conversations with our kids when it comes to online relationships.  We also need to be talking about these things in the real world, too.  I’m hearing more stories than ever before about teenagers who threaten to harm themselves or take their own lives if their boyfriend or girlfriend breaks up with them.  It’s happening in the virtual and the real world.  We need to teach our kids not only that healthy relationships are never built on manipulation AND how sometimes pointing a friend or boy/girlfriend to a counselor is the best help of all.  I tell girls in my office regularly that an adult needs to know, if they have a friend who is hurting.  It can be a parent, counselor, or teacher, but someone needs to know who can connect the child to help that it more professional…and potentially a little more mature..  

I often quote Melissa about how easy it is to substitute intensity for intimacy.  In today’s world, again, this is happening more than ever before.  And, whether in the virtual or real world, intensity with teens often leads to a sexual relationship.  The more manipulative teens can use that kind of intensity to lure well-meaning, naïve, caring kids into a more sexual relationship.

Talk to your pre-teens and teenagers.  Talk about healthy boundaries and relationships, in real life and online.  Ask questions.  

I recently had a girl map out for me the stages of not just physical intimacy, but emotional intimacy, as well.  It builds over time.  It’s also given freely back and forth, not manipulated.  Any time someone says, “I’ll hurt myself” or “I won’t be okay without,” our sons and daughters need to see (or read online) a red flag immediately.  

We need to help them have healthy relationships on and offline, as much as adolescents possibly can.  And we need to be good stewards, not just of their hearts, but of their screen time.  We need to stay a step ahead of them, and know what they’re doing and where they’re going online.  If you see asterisks on your child’s screen or conversations, you might want to have the healthy boundaries talk with them.  And talk about physical relationships, on and off screen.  Stay the course.  You’re doing great.  We’re with you and we’ll keep as much helpful information and hope coming your way.