MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Our special report “Screen Time Predators” airs on WSFA 12 News Thursday night at 10.
One mother learned firsthand the dangers online when her daughter entered the world of social media.
It’s been several years since mother Sharice Stevens first let her daughter open a Facebook account. She was eight years old, and she wanted to play a game exclusive to the social media platform.
“I laid some ground rules and told her she wasn’t allowed to interact with anyone, or have any friends on there, or anything, just simply to play the game, and that is all,” Stevens said.
Some time passed, and Stevens decided to check her daughter’s account. When she looked, she saw messages from men neither she nor her daughter knew who were interested in meeting up with her child. Stevens said the messages included “Hi,” “How are you doing,” and “Where do you live?”
“I was pissed off, really,” Stevens said. “And just really taken aback at the fact that someone would be reaching out to someone they don’t even have a clue who it is. Why are you even interacting? What is your intention?”
Stevens immediately made her daughter shut down the account, explaining to her it wasn’t safe for her to continue having the account. Her daughter is 14 now, and she’s allowed back on Facebook, but not without her mother being more aware and proactive in keeping up with her online presence. Periodically, she will check her children’s phones to see what is happening on their social media pages.
“We’re pretty open with that,” she said, mentioning her children are present when she checks their phones. “I don’t really use any apps or anything, I just go in and look for myself and see what’s going on.”
The phone checks happen a couple times a month and more often if the child is younger. Stevens said this is because she wants to set a pattern while her children are young, teaching them what is appropriate and what to avoid, so one day if they are faced with a circumstance they will know how to handle it.
Stevens stressed that though she believes her children should have their own life experiences, their safety is more of a priority than their privacy. She also warns parents not to be naïve.
“Your children are absolutely doing things that you do not expect them to be doing,” she said. “When I get on there I see a lot of cursing, I see a lot of conversations that we would not expect for our children to be having with some of their friends.”
When she thinks about what could happen to an eight-year-old who receives the same kind of messages her daughter did, and who might not have the lessons she’s trying to instill in her children, Stevens says she is sad and heartbroken.
“Children should be our priority no matter what’s going on in our lives,” she said. “They are so precious, they are the future, so anything that we can do to keep them safe guarded we need to be doing.”