Staying single (and safe)

3Po (in a tone of wonder): Mama, did you know that even old people, you know, like really old people, can find love and get married?

Me (suppressing a smile): Yes, honey, I do know that. People of any age, old or young, can fall in love and get married.

3Po (scornfully): Oh, I know about young people. Even the girls on Jumpstart chase me and want to marry me.

(n.b.: Jumpstart is an online virtual world that my kids like to play on. Kids create avatars for themselves, and when they are in certain portions of the site they can see the avatars of other people who are logged on to Jumpstart at the time. They cannot have private conversations or contact or see any information about another player unless they have "friended" that particular player but they can maneuver their avatars around the area to "follow" other players' avatars.)

Me: Oh? How do you know they don't just want to be friends with you?

3Po: Because I know. Girls chase you to marry you. And that's why I've put a robot mask on my guy, so the girls on Jumpstart won't like my face and won't want to marry me.

Funny, sweet stuff aside, I'm wondering whether this was the perfect opening for a discussion about online safety. The kids are still at the stage where everything is as it seems; it wouldn't even occur to them that the player behind that pigtailed avatar might not actually be a young girl, or might not even be a girl. They know they're not to "friend" anyone on these online kids' sites, and they've ignored all requests except the ones that have come from cousins and schoolfriends (and this only after exchanging user names on the phone or in person).

But the only reason I've given is "we don't know anyone else, those other people are strangers". I haven't mentioned anything about the seedier side of the internet and the darker consequences of exchanging information with a stranger. I believe in age-appropriate explanations, and at this point I don't want to scare them off with worst-case scenarious. That "don't talk to strangers" rule is enough for them now -- but The Pea will be turning nine (OMG, 9!!) in a couple of months, and I wonder how long it will be before she'll want to make friends with strangers on the Jumpstart site, or spend time on sites that are less kid-focused (and less safe) than Jumpstart. I guess having age-appropriate explanations also means we have to keep revisiting topics with our kids and adding more information as they're able to handle it. I dread having to tell her that the world is full of sickos, that anything you post on the internet can live forever, that no site is ever hack-proof, that so many things can be taken away from you online: your money, your reputation, your identity. Ugh.

If only all you had to do to keep safe online was put on a robot mask.

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