This week has been pretty rough. I received two pieces of terrible news. Both involved old friends, both caught me by surprise, and both continue to defy my attempts to work through and find some semblance of balance. In other words, I’m still struggling to get my head around both of them.
I’m not going to get into the first topic much, other than to say that the sister of one of those friends is out of remission, losing her battle to cancer, and is now in hospice. It’s heartbreaking – for her, for my friend, and for her family. She’s 50, she’s dying, and there’s absolutely nothing I can do other than be there for my friend. It sucks.
On the heels of that phone call I saw a FB post spreading the news that another old high school buddy is a pedophile. So there’s that.
August A. was arrested for, and admitted to having and sharing, child pornography. You can find more information about the case and arrest here, but the short version is this: a Special Agent at the Department of Homeland Security was working an investigation of kik users (an online app I’ve not heard of until now), and after connecting and interacting with August, reached out to the Pearland Police Department’s Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Unit. A warrant was issued, his house was searched, and after admitting to, “…engaging in discussions about sexually abusing children, and also to downloading and sharing child pornography with other users”, was arrested. August is now in jail awaiting trial.
He and I weren’t ‘besties’, but we did hang out. We had lunch together. We had mutual friends. Hell, his father was my math teacher in 8th grade. And while I haven’t seen August in close to thirty years, I have no doubt that other parents have.
And he stalked children through an app that your kids, or theirs, might have and use.
I posted a link on FB not long ago about this topic, but I’d like to post it again here. If you have kiddos, please take ten minutes and read this article. It’s by author Anastasia Basil, and it focuses on the app music.ly (not kik, as mentioned above). It’s informative, insightful, and absolutely terrifying. Consider the following excerpt:
There are #killingstalking musical.lys, which are dark-themed (artistic? emo?) videos showing boys putting knives to girls’ throats. There are #selfharm videos that show suicide options — bathtubs filling, images of blades, a child’s voice saying she doesn’t want to live any more. I saw a boy with a bleeding chest (yes, real blood). I saw a young girl whose thighs were so cut up I had to take a break from writing this article. A long break. The images are deeply upsetting. There are #cutter and #triggerwarning and #anorexic videos. Musers with eating disorders hashtag videos using proana (code for pro anorexia.) I found over eleven thousand #selfhate videos. It goes on and on. Each hashtag is its own magical wardrobe, a portal into a world where it’s always winter but never Christmas. It’s Narnia minus Aslan.
It seems we have the device/app debate with our oldest kiddo just about every other day. And while I’m miles away from ten years old, I get where she’s coming from. It’s hard enough to fit-in or find your place (to say nothing of being on the front edge of that never-ending search to figure out who you are) in those early years – being cut-off from all the things that other kiddos are doing to connect no doubt seems a kind of torture.
But what she doesn’t know, truly, is that the Internet, social media, and the countless apps her friends use aren’t just about connectivity. They’re also doorways. They’re points of access for things dark, and evil, and spirit-crushing. And the the things that slither through those doorways come in all shapes and sizes.
Part of our job as parents is to keep those monsters at bay, and to bar those points of access, for as long as we possibly can. I just wish there weren’t quite so many doorways or that some of those monsters weren’t disguised as old friends of their parents.