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She’s not very open so I have no idea whether their conversations are age-appropriate. She is a really intelligent and responsible kid, and she's definitely smart enough not to give out any personal information, and to disengage if things got creepy. But I also feel like an adult who chats with 13-year-olds on the internet can’t be normal, and might not have a normal sense for what is socially appropriate, so I'm pretty concerned about what they might be talking about.

She lives with her mother, so I can't take away internet access. I could tell her mother, but I don't want to break her trust. I know telling her mother would completely destroy the trust she has for me. I could talk to her about the dangers of talking to adults on the internet, but she already thinks I overreact to everything, and in the future I doubt she'd tell me anything anymore.

So 1) is it normal for a 13-year-old to be friends with an adult? And 2) if not, what can I do about this?

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    Where did they meet? If it was on an online game, then they could enjoy teaming up with each other while playing. – user17694 Feb 22 '17 at 3:13
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    Too short for an answer but... "I also feel like an adult who chats with 13-year-olds on the internet can’t be normal" If you told her that, maybe she's right that you're overreacting. Try to be less judgmental... – user7953 Feb 22 '17 at 15:57
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    Twenty is still pretty young. And even if it were 60, the answer depends on what they talk about. Have you asked your daughter what she and her friend discuss? It's rather ridiculous to expect your children to only associate with people of their own age. We learn mature behavior from those who are older. Kids want to be older, so they admire, envy and aspire to be like those who are. Is this 20 year old a good role model? That is the question you should be trying to answer. And even if she isn't, kids can learn as much from the bad models as they do from the good. – Francine DeGrood Taylor Feb 22 '17 at 16:37
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    Just to add, at ~16 i found my way in to a group of players in a game i played at the time who i later found out to be averaging 50-60, didn't realise for some time because we all communicated via text. Some of the online groups i find myself in (friends of friends scenarios) often have people still in high school in them, whilst I am >20. More often than not, I just assume the people I'm talking to are around my age, and am sometimes surprised when things are said that hint at max/min age from what i expected. I guess what im saying is,its easy to make a friend online before knowing their age – Trotski94 Feb 27 '17 at 14:34
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    @JamesTrotter to me this is the 'beauty' of the internet. People who I would never be friends with in person because of social norms -- I'm in my 60s, they're in their 20s and we have so much to offer each other. I love being kept up-to-date and sharing art and music with other people. I've turned people onto Thelonius and they've turned me onto Drake or other artists. Music is ageless and so is art. Gaming can be included -- I'd hate to be held back by a number. That doesn't mean we give out our addresses or share nude selfies -- but we can talk and enjoy the company. – WRX Mar 3 '17 at 18:06
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I have certainly spoken with 13 year olds on the internet and I am in my 60s. Some of the time was in a game room chat and some of the time in my role as a moderator on a forum. I am quite friendly with a 14 y/o girl who is writing a book and she is quite good at writing.

I think that your daughter should not be chatting on the net in private -- and that doesn't mean she can't have privacy, but that she is in a common area while she plays or chats.

I have a niece who was informed by the RCMP that she had been chatting with an older man who was not another pre-teen, but an officer looking for predators. Her parents had quite the wake up call. You have to parent and that means you need passwords and access.

It is a difficult balance and in our home, I am not always liked for my approach. Her father is just as strict, thank goodness because I of course cannot control what happens at his house beyond normal parent/child stuff. I have to trust him and I do.

I think there is no way around you talking to your ex. Parenting is still your job together. You could possibly try not being specific but starting a conversation with all three of you about the internet, its dangers and cautions, as well as how you trust your daughter to do the right thing. I will see if I can find a movie that isn't ridiculously scary, but I am away from home with 'iffy' internet access. I'll ask my daughter but at the moment she's away with her Dad. I'm not seeing anything but horror flicks and if your daughter is like I was, that would back-fire. It has to be truth. Perhaps explain "catfishing".

lure (someone) into a relationship by means of a fictional online persona. "he was being catfished by a cruel prankster" Google Dictionary

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    "that doesn't ,mean she can't have privacy" and "You have to parent and that means you need passwords and access" .... I see a strong conflict here. There are things that parents don't need to know, if you trust each other with problems without being watched all the time. If you have access to one site, and your daugther knows, don't be surprised if she makes a new account under the same name to the same site, so you can't see the difference. A 13 year old can get creative! That doesn't mean you should spy on her without her knowing. – Pudora Feb 22 '17 at 9:28
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    It is a balancing act. I hope my 16 y/o is getting the right message. I do not spy on her, but as the computer and phones and so on are my property (or at his house her dad's) that she borrows, she knows the rules must be followed. She sits nearby in the family room while online. I glance over to see what she is doing. She knows that her older cousin had that problem with the police and how scared it made everyone. We talk a lot about safety and privacy and strangers. Her phone has very limited minutes. At home she uses mine to talk to her friends. – WRX Feb 22 '17 at 9:42
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    Well so do I, I think she'll do fine. She knows that I will be careful as long as it is my 'job' to be. When she's 18, she'll have all the tools we've shared over these years. That is all any parent can do. – WRX Feb 22 '17 at 9:52
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    Also, Kids + Snapchat = Really bad idea. – T. Sar - Reinstate Monica Feb 22 '17 at 20:26
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    For those who don't know, RCMP means the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. – user19033 Mar 4 '17 at 4:45
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While it's certainly important to be aware of the possible dangers on the Internet, it's also important to realize that on the Internet, just in real life, the vast majority of people are not dangerous, and that the vast majority of interactions are innocent.

There are so many possible things they could be talking about, and many of those are things that she might not want to discuss with you, especially since, as you say, she thinks you "overreact to everything." Teenage girls are often dramatic, but there is usually a kernel of truth somewhere in there; if she finds you are judgmental when she is looking for support, she will look for support elsewhere. This is not necessarily even a bad thing - it's important for teens to start to find their own peer group, since that is one of the life skills that is learned in the teen years.

While it's very possible that the purpose of the conversation is something I haven't even thought of, and most of these are not mutually exclusive, here is a partial list of things they could be talking about, roughly in order of most likely to least that I would expect (which, not coincidentally, is also roughly in order of increasing danger):

  1. The site where they met may be interesting for its own sake, and they just happen to talk outside of it as well. A game has been mentioned; I myself have several friends who I met that way. As a further example, a friend I met via a game at age 24 was 16 at the time; we are still friends today. Now for sure, there is more difference between 13 and 16 than between 20 and 24, but still, there was certainly nothing weird about this. Some of the other participants were a couple of years older than me, and we all cooperated in the game and eventually became friends outside of it. This is more likely if your daughter tends to be more serious and thoughtful for her age, and if the game tends to be a little more demanding and requiring commitment or skill (more likely to happen if they're playing Eve Online vs. Candy Crush). Also, the less "kid-oriented" the activity, the less likely she is to encounter a predator (they don't hang out in places where most of the participants are in their 20s, or at least, the ones that do aren't usually looking for 13-year-olds).
  2. They may have a shared interest. Maybe they are both big fans of the same musicians or sports teams. Maybe they are exchanging makeup tips, or discussing a TV show, or the relative merits of single-payer health care. Essentially, a connection which is personal-ish but remains focused on shared interests. Age 20 and age 13 are far apart, but they aren't that far apart, and shared interests across that age gap are quite likely. The other person in the conversation may not even be aware of your daughter's age.
  3. Your daughter may have concerns about her social life where she would rather talk to someone closer to her own age, but who has already been through it. These are not necessarily severe problems. Everyone has some kind of social problems at age 13. Her boyfriend might be ignoring her, her best friend might be saying mean things about her, she knows a secret and doesn't know who if anyone she can tell, whatever. Read any advice column and you will see that this is hardly different than what adults deal with. Because "you just don't understand" (and maybe that is true) she does not want to discuss these things with you, and she cannot discuss them with her real-life friends either because they are probably involved somehow.
  4. Your daughter may already be trying to decide what she wants to do with her life and someone age 20 has probably chosen a college (and a major) and may be in a position to help her make the same choice. Or the other person may live in a city (or country) that your daughter thinks she may want to live in. While she's likely to value your opinion on this matter, she probably already knows it and wants to get other perspectives.
  5. She may have questions about her developing body, but not feel comfortable discussing the issue with her mother (or other trusted female family member such as a favorite aunt or cousin). This is the first thing on the list that I would consider worrisome, because it would point to a strained relationship with her family.
  6. She may be experiencing some sort of serious school or social problem (bullying, teacher conflict, sexual advances from her boyfriend, whatever) but does not trust you to deal with it because she's afraid your reaction will end up making things worse for her.
  7. She may have serious conflicts with a family member. Obviously, she might not be willing to discuss this with you, or at least not come to you first. Only you can know whether this is true, but if you suspect there is something going on beyond the usual adolescent/parent friction, you might dig a little deeper.
  8. The other person may actually be a predator of some sort. Yes, I absolutely consider this the least likely possibility. The chance is not zero, but the small chance of something like this happening shouldn't outweigh all the benefits (or at least opportunities for improvement) provided by the other possibilities.

All of these have either happened to me, or to my close friends at or around that age, except #5 (and even then, maybe I just didn't know) and #8. We didn't always find friends on the Internet to talk these things through, but it those cases it certainly couldn't have hurt.

In order to gain some measure of confidence about their interaction without antagonizing your daughter, I would suggest asking her (if you don't already know) who this person is, where they met and who else participates there. You can then investigate the broad strokes for yourself. This does not require her to disclose any of the content of the communications, which your daughter will no doubt consider private, even if they are innocuous. You can then decide what steps to take next. Of course, don't allow them to meet without you present, but this is unlikely to actually matter; the 20-year-old probably doesn't live near you. If all else fails, you absolutely have the right to demand that your daughter show you the content of her communications or cut off contact with the other person. Depending on what is actually going on, this could easily make things worse rather than better, so please consider it a last resort.

3

"show her a documentary about what can happen to young girls."

I strongly object to this. Don't take this advice, please. I had my parents make me sit down on a couch and watch shows and documentaries like that over and over again and I really feel like it's one of the main reasons I felt so sequestered and socially inept as a child. I still feel that way to this day on occasion.

I would say, though, that going online and chatting/making friends is a normal occurrence for kids these days. I'm 22 but I did the same thing when I was her age. Teenagers are figuring out their identity and what it is they like/want to associate themselves with. When I was younger I felt like I was "wise beyond my years" (though really I was just persnickety lol) and nobody understood me so I took to the internet to relax and build a safe space from school and home. Let her be, she'll be fine. The reason she thinks you're overreacting is because she doesn't have many experiences she can make reference to. She will though. She might even laugh about what she used to do online sometime in the future.

2

As a child I chatted on chat rooms that mostly had adults, since there weren't many child-only chat rooms back then. I was probably a little older then your daughter, but not by much, then and I had some people who I would have potentially called friends, and it didn't seem to mess me up too much ;).

I'm personally a 32 year old man who volunteers with children regularly. I use to have 7 or 8 year olds recognize me and run up to play with me when I went to places like my church or the school where I mentored. We would talk and play all the time, and I don't think the kids were harmed by it. I did it because I liked kids, didn't mind an excuse to play like a big kid myself on occasions, and yes liked to help children teach children positive behaviors and messages (mostly the kids new me as a Sunday school teacher or as a mentor depending on context).

In addition I spend plenty of time online, and likely have made friends with young children, not that I always new the age of people online or remember all of them. I know when I played EverQuest one of the people I played with was a 14-15 year old girl, so not much older then your daughter, and while I didn't play with her as much as some others we got along well and did talk. In addition as a side effect of my volunteering and education I provide online, which is geared to adults, I have been contacted by older teenagers as well. Usually these discussions are short, my answering a specific question or two and being done, but I have had situations where a teenage contacted me that was clearly headed towards a bad decision where I took a little longer to speak with them, developing a bit of a friendship to prove I'm not one of those adults that 'just don't understand' and that they could listen to me, in order to try to guide them towards safer decision when necessary (I had no means to contact parents about my concerns since I didn't know their real identities).

I don't recall specifically having been in the situation of having regular contact with someone quite as young as your daughter solely through the internet, but I don't think it would be harmful if I was. Most people are decent folks, and some people may simply be friendly or enjoy a child's conversations, from simple friendship to common interest to even wanting to offer their knowledge and years of experience to help educate/mentor someone younger. I don't think you would have a problem with your daughter talking to an adult in person often, does the internet really change that?

And if you have an issue with your daughter having a friend who is older, well generally I don't have a problem with that so long as I know the original cause of the friendship and some context (I would be more cautious with an adult friend in person then online, but still not necessarily concerned). The whole Stranger Danger concept was drastically blown out of proportion by news sharing the stories about extremely rare abductions whenever they happen, making people think of them as more common then they are because we hear of them on the news and forget how many hundreds of thousand of normal interactions with strangers are happening every day that the news doesn't report because it's not interesting. Some reasonable discussion over friends is needed, but there is no reason to presume negative motives when 99.9% of the population wouldn't have them!

To be frank I think that there is an unjust fear of the internet due to the whole "new media is evil' trope. There are creeps out there, my volunteer work means I run into them far more often then not so I'm quite aware of them, but they are by no means the norm. The vast majority of folks on it are normal, just as in real life, and frankly a crazy person can do far less harm as a friend on the internet then in person so as far as I'm concerned it's safer to have a friend online in that regard. I don't think there is any reason to suspect a relationship just because it's online, and I definitely don't have issues with a an adult sometimes befriending someone younger since I use to do that regularly.

If your daughter has given you no reason to suspect anything wrong with the relationship, and you also trust her to be intelligent and not be talked into anything stupid, then let her keep doing what she is doing. I frankly think a 20 year old women online is less likely to drag your daughter into trouble then a peer her own age would do in person (teens talk teens into doing really stupid things all the time).

Furthermore, your daughter is at the point where independence is important. If you try to control her life too much now she will rebel against it. There are times you still need to as a parent, but it's important to pick and choose your battles. Frankly even if you had reason to slightly dislike the women she is friends with it's almost certainly not worth the battle to separate your daughter from her friend. By limiting when you take charge now you ensure your daughter is more likely to listen and respect you when you do, if you try to control her over every friend she makes that may not be ideal she will simply stop telling you about her friends and you won't have a way to warn her to avoid the really problematic ones!

Having said that It's good to be involved in your child's life, and know what is going on with her. I would still ask questions about everything, including her friend, how they met, and what they talk about. I'm not suggesting an interrogation, but simple casual conversation. It's good to stay up to date, and if through that you learn of an actual reason to be concerned about this friend, something she said or did rather then just her age, then obviously you might need to do something about the interaction. My main point is simply that there is no reason to presume anything is wrong by default, that of course doesn't remove the general job of any parent to stay informed about your daughter, her friends, and what she is getting up to with her time.

1

I can't know possibly for sure and neither can you. First I would talk to her about the dangers of the internet again, and show her a documentary about what can happen to young girls.

As a woman in my early twenties I actually play a online game that has a rating 13+. So it is possible for me to play with 13 year old girls, even without knowing. Does the 20 year old know how old your daughter is? In this context it can be completly harmless. Talking about game strategies and a little small talk.

But: in other contexts, for example Omegle, it can be really dangerous. Where did they "meet" when did they decide to stay in contact? Most internet meetings end after a few minutes or hours. Did they swap phone numbers? What are the topics they are talking about?

To answer your questions directly:

1) Of course! My cousin is now 15 and we have been friends since I can think of. (you can check my question on my profile). Internet friends? Sure, if they have common interests like gaming the same style of game.

2) If you still think it isn't "normal" or okay with you: Tell her how much you care for her safety! And that as soon as she doesn't feel comfortable you will be there for her. That you won't be jugemental and won't queston her further, and that you love her no matter what.

1

From your description it seems like the relationship to her mother is a bit strained. It could be that she uses the internet relationship as some kind of replacement for a mother-daughter relationship.

When I was 20 i had a 14yo internet friend who was seeing me as some kind of replacement for her father.

Her mother allowed her to invite me over to her place. This (or visiting her together) might be a solution if your daughters friend lives in the same area.

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