Why am I telling you this? My family and I found ourselves in the middle of what felt like a bad movie. Even as I write this, I can't shake the surreal and anxious feelings that came with this particular circumstance.
Due to privacy, I won't share my family member's name, but I will tell you it involved a young teen and a very real need to feel connected after months of isolation. We thought that being holed up at home during the pandemic would ensure our teen's safety, but we were naive. This isolation allowed a stranger to enter our home and invade our sacred space.
Yes, he seemed innocent enough, coming over the technology with sweet talk and compliments, as strangers often will. He joked, played games, and empathized the way a friend would. All of this attention made the teen feel wanted, appreciated, and warm inside. But those feelings didn't mean that the online person was a friend; they only meant that our teen was human. This type of attention, regardless of where it's from, always feels great. Until it puts you in danger.
It wasn't long before this person over-stepped his bounds and showed his true colors, putting our teen at risk. It took us all by surprise. Luckily, our family has a close relationship with one another and we were able to intervene. This time. We're working hard to ensure there isn't a next time.
I'm not going to share all of the details because I want to come back to you, my friends. Believe the movies that show teens being persuaded to do dumb things by strangers online. You never think it's going to happen to you. You think you'll be able to know if someone is scamming you or is intending to do you harm, but it's never that easy — not when strangers know how to make you feel safe and cared for. Not when strangers know how to pretend to be friends.
They may be fun gaming partners. They may be good flatterers. They may even be the cutest entertainers you've ever seen. But they remain strangers through all of it, or at best, acquaintances you know little about.
Since you can't always trust your instincts, make sure you tell family and friends about your acquaintances online. And if your family or friends have a bad instinct about them? Trust the people you know. Hoping you stay safe out there, friends.