Friday, July 09, 2010

Friends with Kids

My sons are teenagers now and therefore they spend the better part of their summer vacation sleeping and/or playing video games in the basement. They’ve been known to remark, upon finally stepping outside, “The light. It burns.”

I don’t really mind them being so plugged-in to their computers. They’re good kids: good students, responsible, respectful and obedient (mostly). (As my husband so astutely pointed out years ago, “Wouldn’t it be way freakier if they did remember to do exactly everything you told them exactly when you told them to do it?” He’s right. It would be freaky. And it could quite possibly mean they were girls.)

Playing computer and video games is how they de rez after a long year at school. And we do set limits, albeit rather lax ones. I don’t even want to think about how many hours of my childhood I wasted watching reruns of “Gilligan’s Island” or “I Dream of Jeannie.” At least the games they play are interactive and require some brainpower, more brainpower than wondering if the Professor was ever going to get them off that island.

In games like World of Warcraft, the boys are required to do some math. One of my sons has even been named head investment banker for his guild, which makes me simultaneously mortified (Bernie Madoff anyone?)and proud and leaves me wondering, since he nearly doubled his guild’s net worth in one day, if there’s anything he can do about our portfolio.

However, the fact their computers have access to the Internet does bug me, even though they’re in a public place in our house, the center of our basement rec room. And both boys have been well schooled on the dangers of Internet predators: Don’t give out personal information. Never say your age, etc. So, it was with some horror I listened to my son Ethan recount a story at dinner the other night.

“So,” Ethan said. “I signed on to World of Warcraft this morning and this guy starts chatting me. He said, “Hi! My name is Friends with Kids.”

“Really,” I said. Already I didn’t like where this was heading.

Ethan continued, “I don’t reply to this guy, and then he asks me, ‘How old are you?’ So I say, ‘236.’”

Okay, good, I thought. He didn’t give his age to this creep. And he was being funny, besides.

“Eleven to Seventeen would be perfect,” Friends with Kids replied. When Ethan didn’t answer him, he asked, “Where do you live?”

And I was ready to call the cops.

“The North Pole,” Ethan said.

“Oh, you live in Chicago. Great!” Friends with Kids replied.

And then I really started freaking out, because I was thinking of all the time the boys have spent playing this game with such lax security controls on personal information and all these weirdoes out there. How could this guy have known this information about my son? Ethan hadn’t given away any personal information. Friends with Kids, on top of being a pervert, must be some kind of account hacker or something. I was ready to call the police, and Blizzard Entertainment.

“What street do you live on?” Friends with Kids asked next.

And Ethan replied, “Candy Cane Lane.”

“Oh, I see. You live on [insert our street name here.]”

I wished Ethan had just signed-out at this point and come to get me. To say I was terrified is to say the least.

Yet Ethan, our preeminent family storyteller, was quite obviously relishing my horror.

“Then, Friends with Kids asks me what my name is,” Ethan continued, “and I say, ‘It’s Santa Claus.’ And then, Friends with Kids said, “Your name is Ethan [insert Ethan’s last name here] and…[insert dramatic pause here]…of course, I know all these things, because I’m your brother.”

At which point, Ethan says he did look over at his brother Kyle grinning wildly at the computer screen next to him, but that he did NOT sock him soundly in his left arm leaving a small bruise above the elbow.

I was so relieved this was all a practical joke, I practically started crying, not knowing whether I should congratulate Kyle for a brilliant prank, or sock him in the other arm.

Ethan’s anecdote resonates with me for so many reasons. I was proud he knew how to handle this guy and not to answer any of his questions. I was also proud of Kyle for knowing what kinds of questions an Internet predator might ask. I felt we had prepared them well. And I think it’s a cautionary tale, too. One that says, “Don’t play a joke on your brother unless you want a bruise on your upper arm,” or maybe, “Don’t tell a story about hitting your brother unless you want to clean out the garage.”

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