“Don’t talk to strangers online.”

Despite growing up with computers (or perhaps because I grew up with computers) I do not remember my first encounter with the internet. I had my own computer, in my own bedroom, ever since elementary school which I most certainly did not use for academic purposes. My parents were not so strict when it came to the usage of said computer and let me use it whenever I pleased, probably because I was also a good student and went out to play with friends from time to time. Ironically, however, I made more friends on the internet than in real life through the use of a digital environment called Habbo Hotel.

Habbo Hotel was my home for five years. It all started when my friends at school asked me whether I was on it but I had never heard of the website before. Apparently it was a digital environment in which you could chat and hang out with other kids and teens. So after consulting my parents I was allowed to make an account and check it out. At first I made an avatar and walked around with my parents watching over my shoulder. But as time went by I started playing more and more by myself. I would come home after school, drop my bag and start up my computer, then spend hours socializing, playing games and generally exploring the Habbo Hotel “building”. On Habbo Hotel I met a bunch of other school kids with similar interests and we would hang out together, despite not really knowing who the other people behind the screen were. During my time at Habbo Hotel I heard my fair share of horror stories about people getting hacked or bullied. But the worst stories involved kids or teens meeting up with their online friends who then turned out not to be their age (read: creepy old men.)

Even though my parents did not supervise me much, I was always careful not to share too much information about myself with others on the website, and I definitely did not tell anyone my password as I had accumulated quite a large amount of in-game furniture and money (which I, or rather my parents, had paid for with real money). At that time I was still a kid and I was not expected to be knowledgeable about the dangers of the internet so using the website unsupervised was perhaps not the safest thing to do. Luckily, I was always wary, took my parent’s advice in account and generally avoided trouble. However, even though those horror stories I heard definitely played a part in my careful behavior it did not stop me from meeting my own online friends in real life, which means I could very well have been in danger myself. Looking back at this period I wonder how I made it through unscathed.

When I have children I would like to monitor their online behavior a bit more without being too pushy, which I know requires a delicate balance. While I made it through my childhood just fine, I know there are others who did not and the internet might be to blame. The internet remains a dangerous place especially for those who are easily influenced. I would thus like to advise everyone reading this not to expose yourself on the internet too much, no matter how fun or interesting it may be; it might just ruin your life.