Having spoken to thousands of parents over the past 10+ years on the subject of Internet safety I occasionally get a call from a parent when something bad happens to one of their kids online. Often they don’t know whom else to call because the situation may be too embarrassing or hurtful to talk about with a friend or family. I am glad I can be that third option. But that also means I have heard many heartbreaking stories. What makes them worse is that I know if the parents would have had an Internet filter like X3Watch or had just been a little more engaged with what their kids were doing online the situation could have been avoided or at least nipped in the bud. I’ll share one such story but will change some of the details and use some creative license to protect the identity of those involved.

One night I get a call from a mother who is very distressed and panicked. She tells me a guy in Romania was blackmailing her daughter. Then she recounts here daughter’s story. She’d met him online at one of “those” video chatting sites. It seemed like things were getting somewhat serious. They talked a lot and she really liked him. He seemed to share her feelings. Add in the intrigue of him being from overseas and his cute accent and she was really falling for this guy. But she couldn’t hold his hand or hug him, let alone give him a kiss. They could only look at each other on their computers and talk. But she longed for more and let him know. He shared her feelings and shyly suggested that maybe they could share some virtual intimacy. That thought hadn’t ever occurred to her and it was intriguing. How would that work she asked? He suggested that maybe they could show each other the private parts of their bodies…just briefly. She blushed a bit and said no. He didn’t push any further.

She continued to think about his suggestion. Eventually she brought it up again and they laughed about the idea…nervously. Initially she thought the idea of exposing herself was just crazy. But what first seemed like an impossibility became more probable. It was a way to take their long distant relationship to the next level. He was a really, really nice guy and she liked him a lot. Showing him a little skin couldn’t hurt. During their next video chat she sheepishly brought up his idea and he told her he would do it only if she really wanted to. That really made her excited. He really cares. So they agreed to do it and they both exposed themselves to each other. It was nerve racking and a bit embarrassing the first time but it was, she had to admit, exciting.

Over the next several days they spent more and more time in various states of undress during their video chats. And then he asked if she would touch herself for him since he could not. She was hesitant at first but eventually she complied and shortly there after she masturbated for him. When she finished his demeanor seemed to change. He became more serious. She asked him what was wrong and he told her just to watch the screen. A video window popped up and started playing. It was a video of her masturbating. She didn’t know what to say. Her heart began racing. Why was he playing this for her? Then he spoke. As you can see I have this very intimate video of you saved on my computer. If you do not pay me $300 a month I will post it on your Facebook page and send it to your friends and family. She couldn’t believe what she was hearing. If anyone saw this video she would die, especially her family. What if her dad saw this! If this went on Facebook almost everyone she knew would see it. She started to panic and then she started to cry. She was only 18 and as a senior in high school she didn’t have time for a job. She didn’t have $300 to her name. How could she possibly pay $300 a month to keep this video from coming out? He spoke again telling her she had 24 hours to make the first payment via wire transfer. She told him she didn’t have that kind of money and begged him not to post it. He told her to figure out a way to get the money and disconnected the video chat.

She wept knowing she would have to tell her mom what she had done so hopefully she could pay the money. But it took her two hours to get up the courage. Those were the longest two hours of her life. Needless to say her mom was completely shocked. Her daughter had never gotten into any serious trouble. How could this have happened and how could they stop it from going any further?

An Internet filter may have blocked this girl’s activity and X3Watch may have made the girl’s parents aware of her behavior. But being more engaged with their daughter and her online activities could have also been the key to preventing this story from unfolding. As parents we need to be more vigilant in paying attention to what our kids are doing online and what they’re involved with online. It is a minefield and too often we pretend it’s a park.