Yesterday, I received a “Number Neighbor” text. Do you know what a “Number Neighbor” is? Have you seen the memes?
They all made Number Neighbors look like harmless fun. In one meme, two girls actually realized they would be attending the same school the upcoming year and made plans to get together. In another, one was moving out of town and the other agreed to adopt her dog. On the surface, they seemed like touching stories with happy endings.
Then I got a Number Neighbor text from a similar number to my own that said, “Hey Number Neighbor.” I could tell from their follow up text that this was an incredibly young person. Having taught and/or coached middle school-aged students for 10+ years, I have an eye for this. So, I asked their age. The reply I got was, “13 hbu?”
At this point, as I realized that there could so easily be a link of open communication between a 13-year-old child and a 35-year-old adult stranger, my heart sank and I got a pit in my stomach. The potential danger of this silly fad sunk in.
There is no telling who is on the other end of an unknown text sent to a Number Neighbor. Is it a child, following a seemingly harmless trend? Or is it an adult, exhibiting some poor decision-making. My mind began to run wild, fueled by anxiety and far too many True Crime podcasts.
In one of the memes I saw, two guys in their 20s ended up FaceTiming each other and were now saying they were best friends. But what if your 13-year-old FaceTimed his/her Number Neighbor, and the Number Neighbor lied about his/her age/gender/intentions? What if your child started communicating with a predator, or even a concerning person?
I told you my imagination ran wild, but is it really all that wild?
Here’s the thing. I don’t have any tips or advice. I don’t have 7 steps to keep your kids safe. I’m not going to stand on a soapbox and attempt to give parenting advice to an age demographic that I’ve never parented. This is not a TED Talk. And you certainly will not hear me say, “My kids would NEVER text strangers” or, “I would absolutely know if my kids were texting strangers.” My kids don’t have access to phones yet. But someday they will.
What I am here to do is remind you that this world can be a scary place. For all of the beauty and joy, there is also evil. It’s our job as parents to keep our children safe from that evil as best we can for as long as we can.
Let’s make sure we’re constantly and from a young age talking to our kids about their social safety. Phones and computers and peer groups offer positive and negative experiences. Let’s help each other keep our kids safe instead of judging, pointing fingers, and assuming that our own kids, “Would never…”
Because there is a mom out there, who may be saying that right now, and she has NO CLUE her 13-year-old was texting me, just yesterday.