An Interview with an Adolescent Gamer

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In the past year, I have attended symposiums and webinars addressing the dangers of social media. I am also aware of the nuance of continuing to fight for girls’ rights and how we turn a blind eye to boys. Both camps of gender are at risk for different reasons. These reasons have to do with societal pressures to conform to gender rules. In fact, we know without even having to look for this information that boys are discouraged from expressing emotions while girls are told to be “nice.” Despite these differences, the gaming industry calls for vigilance.

Gaming is a risky business, and according to The Spokesman-Review, a 21-year-old Washington man received a 15-year sentence in federal prison after pleading guilty to child sexual abuse material he sought from exploiting two boys ages nine and eleven. The children’s mother alerted federal authorities.

A few weeks ago, I interviewed an adolescent gamer whose parent’s granted me permission to sit down with him to ask about his experience playing online gaming for a class I teach. He was very gracious and eager to talk with me because I mentioned to him a while back that I thought it would be cool to interview him about the dangers of gaming.

He had to stand to talk to me since he needed to move around and not feel confined to a chair. I think it is essential when we interview kids or adults who deviate from traditional interviewing styles to respect their needs. I was thankful that I had the space so he could move about freely to tell me his story. We had some laughs between this moment of me recording him amidst dogs barking, humans calling out, and a distant cawing sound.

He told me that he reports incidences as instructed on Fortnite’s website, but he cautioned me that it takes Fortnite 48 hours to respond. He said this was a bit of a problem, leading him to block anyone who is inappropriate with him or bullies him. I immediately had to check out what protocol Fortnite practices. Their website does have a category for community rules.

I spoke with the parents about what he shared with me. His parents informed me that he plays in the living room in their presence, and when he wears his headset, it is plugged into the controller and plays through the television speakers so that it is audible throughout the living room, and they can hear what is said. I asked them what they recommended parents could do. They emphasized always keeping an eye on your child. Do not allow your child to wear a headset when playing this game unless you are tech-savvy and know how to plug into the controller, so the dialogue plays through speakers. They also said that on PlayStation, you could set time limits. His parents told me he is swift to report and block “offenders.” They did confirm that once a gamer plays Fortnite, the rules are clear and stipulate to report any bullying or inappropriate behavior.

Okay. Well, the 48-hour range is troubling.

Fortnite has a platform referred to as Playground. Reading this section will probably bring back, for those of us who are way older than the hills, memories; some good and others not so good. The years of playing at playgrounds were fun; these were in real-time, unlike gaming playgrounds, but could also be terrifying for those of us who endured bullying by the meanest brutes in the area. Unlike gamers, we had no way to block the meanies in the neighborhood. Instead, the lessons with which our parents armed us were rolled into one sentence, “Walk away when you see them.” We had to learn shortcuts to our streets to get home via back alleys, and thinking back to those years, some of these shortcuts weren’t the safest routes.

Bullying has been “a thing” for years, and as kids, we formed friendships with others equipping us to stand up to the bullies. Power isn’t always in the numbers but in the supportive efforts kids show one another, even if only in twos. It is this message we could teach gamers. When you see someone bullied, please stand up for them.

This adolescent gamer said the same thing. Please stand up for one another, but sometimes the gangs have already formed a league of their own, and he said there is no standing up to them. He told me kids could report issues like cyberbullying to the game moderator. He hopes to be a game moderator someday, as he is for the game Roblox.

Our moderators, for those of us dinosaurs, happened to be our parents, neighbors, or friend’s parent. Usually, our moderators had the same mundane responses. “Walk away.”

Child safety experts at The National Center for Missing Children (NCMEC) provide a free online safety presentation, NetSmartz, that parents, educators, or anyone interested in using NetSmartz may use for presentations.

NCMEC also has a section titled, KidSmartz, which educates families about preventative measures to reduce the chances of abduction, and kids, K-5 can receive lessons at home. This whole notion of Stranger Danger is misleading according to NCMEC because most reports of kidnapping, solicitation, and assault, occur because the child or youth is familiar with the person. So, what does this have to do with gaming? Well, first of all, let’s face it, friends isn’t a word that refers to a camaraderie earned through building trust or in person. Hinging on your age group, today’s interpretation of “friendship” is based on how many “likes” someone gains, and anyone can be your “friend” without ever meeting the person or knowing anything about them. Offenders groom kids and adolescents, which can take place over months via social media and gaming.

Arming children early on is similar to teaching our children what to do when they smell fire. It is essential to differentiate between reporting and tattle. I remember the days when teachers would tell us to stop ratting out students. These teachers did not want to hear about the student who, on the surface, seemed like a good kid but was slicker than sly. Many of us ended up having to do battle on our own.

Parents pay attention here because while kids talk away about an upsetting experience, you may be caught up in your day-to-day stuff. Stop and listen.

NCMEC offers helpful tips, one of which is setting up a safety plan for kids. Walk the paths your kids walk daily and look around to areas where your kids can quickly go for help.

The adolescent’s feedback was eye-opening. He informed me that he has endured gamers telling him to kill himself and that he is fat and ugly. One gamer asked him his age and if he was a girl. The offender told the gamer he sounded like a girl. The adolescent played along. The offender built him a house and a bedroom. He instructed him to get on top of the bed, to which the gamer responded, “I said, ‘Heck, no!’ and I blocked him!” He also reported him, so he never knew the outcome because once anyone blocks offenders, they do not know what happens after that.

What if curiosity took over and this adolescent gamer continued to follow the offender’s instructions? Where would this have led him?

The adolescent gamer said he has friends who will share their faces on facetime when they play using their phones and that Fortnite is one of the games that can track an IP Address.

Now back to the parents of the adolescent. They did not know whom to report incidences outside of Fortnite and felt comfortable relying on Fortnite’s reporting structure. They are not the only ones, so this was troubling but easily circumvented since I could provide them with some of the links I have included. Here is a link to everything parents need to know about Fortnite.

Consternations of Trafficking in the Adoption World; The Elephant in the Room

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Adoptees have sent clear messages that warrant those of us who are anti-trafficking advocates to sit up and pay attention.

Discussing trafficking is a distant thought—a subject for another industry. In the foster system, 60 percent of child sex trafficking victims have been in foster care. Neurodivergent children, disabilities, sexual violence, intimate partner violence, rape, exploitation, sex trafficking, incest, and domestic servitude, are some reported incidences involving foster care. You can select this link and listen to the information about runaways. This same link has a report to Congress: The Child Welfare Response to Sex Trafficking of Children.

Every school district, public and private schools, could use continual training on trauma-informed care, not just for gun violence and deadly school shootings but also for the reasons described throughout this essay. What are school systems doing to address these areas directly involving adoptees and foster children?

What about adoption agencies turning a blind eye when red flags are noted, potentially engaging in what may be perceived as child trafficking or adoptions rushed to meet adoptive parents’ requests?

Organizations become complacent when these values are overdriven and misguided by competitive practices. Opportunities are missed when assuming that addressing the un-populace would mean a loss of funding.

Years ago, I sat and spoke with one of the EDs in a nonprofit organization who lost sight of why they did their work. It all filtered back into the fear of losing funding. This fear is real, but at what point do we step away to serve as leaders setting examples for others to follow?

Complacency is one of those descriptive words that pull forth comfort, satisfaction, and feelings of familiarity – trusting the good, the bad, and the ugly because it is predictable. However, it is also a state of mind that disconnects from the rest of the world. Complacency takes care of the “ego” and “self” and is familiar with the “issues” but ignores what falls outside of this perimeter, dismissing what others face because of harboring a false sense of security that settles into permanence, ignoring the social issues fought and overcame. It also means that complacent people could potentially miss the danger that harms them and others. Read more about the definition of complacency.

Complacency discards any nuance that might get in the way of feeling comfortable, satisfied, and safe. The minute classism infiltrates these boundaries, marginalized communities face obstacles that the privileged do not. Complacent communities may have fought for rights but disregarded equality because they reconstructed their narratives and are tired. They are tired of the so-called allies who were nothing but pomp and circumstance, capitalizing on their rights to seek a right to passage, rights to healthcare, housing, adoption, education, workforce, and a place to belong. Unfortunately, their tiredness stops short of helping others attain equal rights. Not all alleys are pomp and circumstance. Many have helped us get where we are today. However, in the adoption industry, might there be a concern for pomp and circumstance? Who benefits from transactions between buyer and seller? Have some adoptees been fortunate and ended up with wonderful adoptive parents? Of course. There are those stories as well. However, why are adoptions ranging in costs from $70,000 to $150,000?

Embracing diversity and addressing transracial issues, including disability, sexual violence, incest, and trauma, are necessary discussions since infants grow up, form identities, and eventually attend school. How are adoptees and foster children treated in school systems? Several adoptees will attest that they came from trauma. Some experienced trauma due to separation at birth or negative statements about the birth parent, rejection, secrecy, alcoholism, and drug use in the family.

Stories about kidnapping and transnational adoption involve parents coerced into giving up their infant and finding out later in life that their child was rehomed. They never were contacted to be given the option to reunite with their birth child.

United Nations’ definition of human trafficking balances the following words: Prevent, Suppress, and Punish, Trafficking in Persons. Adoptions without the biological parent’s consent have been a global problem. Also, a problem in the US. Human Trafficking Adoption Scheme

Another area of adoption practice that needs ethical reconsideration is placing a child with adoptive parents prior to all birth parents’ full consent. Here is an article whose authors, Daniel Pollack and Steven M. Baranowski, discuss this issue. Ethical Challenges Remain in the World of Private Adoptions

Rehoming is a buzzword for trafficking. Stories of adopted parents using social media to advertise rehoming a child using grooming language, such as describing the child as “Willing to wash dishes,” “Enjoys housework,” and “Loves to garden,” need to be investigated. How do we get the attention of Homeland Security or Internet Crimes Against Children to recognize that these types of advertisements place a child at risk? One advertisement read the State pays $2,000 a day.

Unfortunately, no one wants to address the elephant in the room because of the political issues. Such as the organization risking the loss of votes, rights, funding, or reputation when taking a position. What about companies taking a stand against human rights violations? Ten brand campaigns that took a stand on social issues

Is there any reason why adoption agencies should not take an oath against human trafficking?

Other organizations Globally and in the US receive score cards.

Is it time to regulate private adoption agencies and stipulate the need to score agencies for performance and committing to take a stand against human trafficking?

An estimated 24.9 million people worldwide are victims of forced labor, generating $150 billion in illegal profits in the private economy.

So, how do we talk about the elephant in the room?

State why you are exposing the elephant in favorable terms. “I am concerned …” statement. When the ostrich sticks its head in the sand, it does not see any more than we would if we ignored these uncomfortable discussions. The conversation is predictable when people turn a blind eye or when the elephant stays hidden. Predictable because the message is “Turn off this conversation!” Instead, try forming committees of interest whose members can work together to address changes and challenges. Invite people with experience in these subjects, and even more importantly, either serve as experts or have lived experiences.

Lift the veil and put complacency into action. Take the leap of faith. Embrace differences no one else wants to address.

©An Goldbauer