Are your children safe?
ATLANTA – MaryBeth Reeves is no stranger to chatting. The mother of quadruplet 10-year-old daughters says it’s not quiet in their home very often. What was strange to her, though, were the chats taking place while her girls played games on the Internet.
Her girls use Roblox, a multiplayer game site that lets players communicate with each other.
“There’s a bunch of different people that can be on a game and then there’s, like, this chat that you can type in what you want to say. Then you can communicate with other people, say if you’re on a team,” 10-year-old Hannah Reeves explained.
Recently, a few players no longer talked about the game began asking the girls personal questions.
“He said, ‘You’re cute,’ and I said, ‘Ew, gross!’” Gwendolyn Reeves said.
Her sister Isabella said someone asked her if she’d like to go out on a date.
Reeves said she had no idea that was possible. She and her husband observe their girls’ online activity closely. They have the ability to control the power on each laptop and tablet and track what sites the kids visit.
“When the first girl told me someone asked her out on a date I thought she was making it up,” MaryBeth Reeves said. “There was a sinking feeling in the bottom of my stomach.”
She promptly had a conversation with her girls.
“We just have to try to educate them as much as possible. Keeping them in the dark is not going to help them,” MaryBeth Reeves told Channel 2’s Dave Huddleston.
Sky Valley Police Chief Vaughn Estes told Channel 2 Action News that is the exact approach for parents to take. Estes worked for the GBI in its high technology investigative unit and says pedophiles prey on children using subtle techniques to gain their confidence and draw them in.
“We’ve worked cases where people have talked children into doing things in front of their webcams that the parents walk into the room and they are horrified when they discover,” Estes said.
He also says active parenting should be the first line of defense to protect your child.
“Know what your children are doing. Know what they are on. If they are in that room with that computer, you don’t know who is on the other side of that computer,” Estes said. “If their phone has a password on it and you, the parent, does not know it, then you need to get the phone away from them because there is nothing on there that a 14-year-old should not be able to show you.”
He says when parents are aware and kids speak up, it makes investigating this type of behavior easier.
Channel 2’s Dave Huddleston also spoke with Eliza Harrell, a director with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Harrell says while knowing what your kids are doing online is important, they also need to understand online gaming safety features.
“Most companies are more than willing to help,” Harrell said.
Roblox, the site the Reeves girls use, filters out inappropriate language and allows parents to control who their children can chat with or turn the chat off altogether. They also allow kids to report abuse and block players that ask offensive questions.
The company told Channel 2 that every abuse report is investigated and players can be banned from the site.
All three girls in the Reeves house who were approached blocked the player asking the questions, and one of them was able to report the activity before the player left the game.
MaryBeth Reeves says she’s thankful they spoke up and wants other parents to be prepared.
“Anything I can do to let other parents know that that happens,” she said.
Channel 2’s Dave Huddleston was joined by DeKalb County Police, Common Sense Media and Roblox for a LIVE Q&A with the experts about how to protect your children online.