I remember driving out of the parking area at work to pick up my daughter. I had received a phone call from the school saying she was feeling sick and could I come and get her. My daughter needed her mummy. I rushed to get her immediately, like a mother bear eager to protect her cub. As I steered out of the drive way I noticed the clouds getting grey and tiny spots of water slowly tapping my windscreen. It was going to be a cold, stormy night.
A solemn voice came on the radio; it was the afternoon news reporter. She said that a teenage girl had been missing for two days and it was suspected she had gone to meet someone she had just met on Facebook. I clearly remember closing my eyes and silently praying that it was not true; that perhaps she had run away to a friend’s house.
I had no reason to have a vested interest in this girl. Other than the fact that I am a mother. And a human.
Although my two girls are still very young, I knew that one day I would have to face the reality that they too would be branching out into cyberspace and coming across people they don’t know in ‘real life’. This could happen to anyone.
The next day there was an update on the teenager. She had been murdered by the stranger she met on Facebook. The charming young man she was talking to in cyberspace turned out to be an experienced predator that lures young girls in with fake social media accounts. I knew right then and there that safety on the Web was my calling. I had to learn everything there was to know about keeping my children safe in cyberland.
In real life, I teach my daughters to be aware of their surroundings, not to talk to strangers, and to always be kind to others and report any bullying they may come across. These rules apply on the Web too.
When the lines between the virtual and physical world are blurred we can have tragic circumstances like the one this poor teenager faced. Somewhere this teenager’s mother is longing for her child, longing to hold her in her arms again, longing for the ability to keep her child safe. I vow to learn from this woman’s tragedy and start guiding my own children’s digital footprints.