It was a happening Friday night at our house, which translates to: I had been reading in my daughter’s room while she fell asleep and I had lost track of time. With both girls out cold, I tiptoed down the stairs to find my husband. It was 10 pm, and he was nowhere to be found. I searched every room he could be in, until I thought to open the garage door. There he was, flashlight in hand, and a look of confusion across his face.
“What’s going on?” I asked. He seemed lost for words. “Um, you should probably come out here. I think one of the kids on the street got drunk and passed out on the side of our house.” Ok, weird. I was picturing one of the 20-ish boys from down the street. I slipped on my shoes and threw on a sweatshirt. It was a warm day but the temperature had dropped to about 10 degrees. I walked out to find a taxi at the end of our driveway. The driver’s face was contorted in uncertainty like my husband's. I rounded the wall of my garage. The area between my house and my neighbour’s is the requisite 8 ft wide, sloped to our back yard and was steeped in inky darkness. My husband shone the flashlight down the small hill. There she was. Curled in to a ball, motionless, wearing an outfit better suited for a hot summer day.
I am one of those people who panic internally but maintain calm on the surface. My head said shit, shit, shit, shit, there is an unconscious kid on my lawn, what do I do? How do I help her? But my body edged purposefully towards her and placed a hand on her back. “Hey, are you ok?” She wasn’t moving. “Hey..” Suddenly she popped up, eyes as big as saucers, huge ridiculous smile on her face. “Hiiiiiiiii” she drawled. This girl was plastered. I was relieved. She was ‘ok’. Well she was beyond drunk, but OK.
I asked her a bunch of questions, her name, her age, where she was going. Turns out she was 17, she knew her name, but she kept giving me the wrong address and asking for a girl on our street who didn’t live there. The cab driver told us he’d picked her up from a bar. She had no ID and no phone. Shit all over again.
I looked at her. Though she was as tall as I was, she was still a little girl. Someone’s little girl. Someone’s lost and alone little girl. I did what I know how to do with children, I mothered her. I tried to lift her up from the ground but she felt sick and instead vomited all over the grass. I took the hair elastic from my wrist and wrapped it around her hair to keep it away from her face. I rubbed her back and sent my husband to get water. After a few minutes I managed to lift her to her feet and move her in to the light.
Thankfully, she managed to spell her last name for me. Thankfully, she knew her dad’s name. Most thankfully, his home number was listed online.
I called her dad, explained his daughter was OK, though drunk, but she was at my house and he needed to come get her. He sounded shocked, as I would be, but he was on his way.
I covered her up in a warm blanket. I sat her on my porch and wrapped my arm around her. Her head lulled back and forth and she told me half-stories from her evening. I asked where her friends were. She told that when they got to the bar, she had been turned away because she was too drunk. She told them to go in without her. She’d gotten in the cab on her own. According to her, she’d left her phone and ID at her friend’s house so she wouldn’t lose them. Now she was here.
I wanted to blame someone for this but I realized there was no one who was responsible.
She was old enough to make decisions for herself. Should she have drank that much? No, but most people have at some point in their lives.
She was to be staying at a friend’s house. Is it that parent’s fault? No. Again, 17 year-olds don’t need monitoring. I wouldn’t expect another parent to be watching my kid at that age.
The bar turned her away. They couldn’t be responsible because she was never actually a patron there.
The cab driver took her. Should he have first checked to make sure she knew where she was going?
No, this was just a series of unfortunate events that landed her on my lawn. And I am grateful she did because I shudder to think of where else she could have ended up or what would have happened to her if the cab driver had left her alone, drunk, and cold on our street.
Her father eventually came to pick her up. He apologized for ruining our evening. I told him it was fine. I was 17 once. Kids make mistakes.
One day I am sure my girls will make their own mistakes. I just hope that if they need a mom when I’m not around, that someone else steps in to take my place.
I am a very opinionated person, but when I write publicly I tend to avoid controversial topics. Why? I don’t like to offend people. I am acutely aware of the fact that everything I say online adds up to a picture of who I am and frankly I do give a shit what people think of me.
But, what if I could post what I wanted and no one would know it was me who did it? Enter the anonymous network. A collection of apps and networks that allow people (mostly kids) to speak or act freely without the judgment of those they see every day. These apps may be liberating for some but can be caustic for others.
These are the types of networks you need to be aware of:
Ever have a secret you are dying to get off your chest but have no one you can tell? Want to announce something but don’t want to brag to friends? Enter Whisper. Whisper allows you to post your thoughts using either your own photo as background or one of their stock photos. Once posted, other people can anonymously comment on it. Sometimes a question is asked (example: What scandalous things have teachers done?) and then people post Whispers to answer that question.
Women’s bathrooms stalls are great for sharing with a captive audience. They are also the best way to anonymously bash someone from your school. Remember those “For a good time call..” messages? Now we have the internet version.
Similar to the confessionals, the concept behind these apps is to post comments anonymously. The difference here is that it is targeted at a selected campus which means bullying can easily reach a target. The 3 biggest are Yik Yak (works within 5 miles of a campus), After School (select school from drop down), and Ogle (select school and comment on posts).
What’s one of the first safety rules you learn? Never talk to strangers. Omegle is a chat app that sets up two anonymous users in a chat room. The tag line is actually “Talk to Strangers”. I have seen a parody on this that said “Talk to pedophiles”. Young kids seem to really gravitate to this one despite the age being set to 18 and over.
Last and (in my opinion) least, we have Ask.fm. Targeted mostly at kids, users enter with a picture and a profile. Then other anonymous users and strangers post questions to their ‘board’ where the profiled person can answer publicly. Sometimes the questions are innocent (“Who are your best friends?”) but often they get nasty fast. This site has the most connected ties to cyberbullying and teen suicides in the UK. In the cases I have seen in local schools, most questions are of a sexual nature.
As an adult, you can decide if you want to use these networks or not. Just be cautious about over-sharing personal information.
If you are a parent, you should be wary of what your kids are using. Students in my area are heavy users of Ask.fm and Omegle. Users start as young as 9 or 10.
To start the conversation, ask your kids:
what apps they use
how they use them
why they enjoy them
Then you can help guide them to use these apps safely and constructively.
For a more complete list of popular kids apps, you can use my Network and App Resource or search YouTube for instructional videos.