By Dave Huddleston, WSBTV.com
ATLANTA — MaryBeth Reeves is used to a lot of chatting. The Georgia mother of quadruplet 10-year-old daughters says it’s rarely quiet in their home. What she wasn’t used to were the chats taking place while her girls played games online.
Her girls use Roblox, a multiplayer game site that allows players to 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.
Not long ago, a few players stopped talking about the game and began asking the girls questions about themselves.
“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 was unaware that was possible. She and her husband monitor their girls’ online activity closely. They have controls on each laptop and tablet that turn them on and off and allow them to 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,” Reeves said. “There was a sinking feeling in the bottom of my stomach.”
She immediately 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,” Reeves told WSB-TV’s Dave Huddleston.
Sky Valley Police Chief Vaughn Estes told WSB-TV that is the exact right 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 lure 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.
WSB-TV’s Huddleston also spoke with Eliza Harrell, a director with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Harrell says that 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 offensive language and allows parents to choose who their children chat with or to turn chat off altogether. They also allow kids to report abuse and block players that ask offensive questions.
The company told WSB-TV 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.
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.
WSB-TV’s 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.