Do you know where your children are - when it comes to being online?
Well, you better. The recent case of the 42-year-old Australian man impersonating Justin Bieber to obtain nude photos and videos from innocent teenagers is why you need to be cyber vigilant.
This is far from an isolated case – “children need more digital education and that parents need to be involved in their kids’ lives, both digital and not,” says Dr. Devorah Heitner, founder of raisingdigitalnatives.com.
A terrifying video warning of the dangers of online grooming is garnering millions of YouTube views – released by the Liecestershire police in the UK, it features the heartbreaking story of 15-year-old Layleigh Haywood who was raped and murdered after meeting someone online. Kayleigh’s Love Story, created with her parents' permission, all started out so innocently for her, and ended so tragically. It’s a video that all parents should watch.
Digital technology is the very fabric of adolescence. Know where they go – conversation beats surveillance. Go for mentoring rather than monitoring, says Heitner, author of Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive and Survive in their Digital World. Have open conversations about risks and how to stay safe online.
“Spying on kids covertly is not as helpful as directly mentoring them, and if you choose to track them, let them know you are doing so, so that you can discuss any concerns with them,” says Heitner. “If you covertly spy, how bad does it have to get before you let your child know you are there? You don’t want to encourage your child to be sneaky, so you want to be sure they know you are a safe person to talk with about any dilemmas, online or off.”
While some parents check their children’s phone and computer browser history, it’s even more important to know what your child is interested in and to make sure they know appropriate boundaries. Simply keeping connected devices out of bedrooms overnight can help as kids may make worse decisions alone late at night, she adds.
“Building a strong, honest, and open relationship with your child is the best defense against the digital issues your family faces day to day. Protection apps are simply no match for your experience, and won’t help your child develop good judgment in communicating.”
Take Heitner’s tips on keeping kids digitally safe and become tech-positive parents:
- Get acquainted with your kids’ app worlds now. Knowhow kids are using various apps, and get your kid’s perspective on good and bad uses. Have them give you demonstrations on the apps they want or are using. Are they age appropriate? In line with your values?
- Get social media savvy. Besides turning to online sources, ask young adults in your life, perhaps a college-aged niece or nephew, to give you a tutorial on whatever the newest hot apps might be.
- Be upfront about any monitoring apps you put on their devices. “Tell your kids up front that you are going to be watching, and why you feel you need to do this. Demonstrate to them how your relationship will be better and more open because of this. After all, you are being honest with them - not covert.”
- When kids play games like Minecraft on a public server, other users may use language or behave in the game in ways that may not be appropriate for younger players. Seek out someone with the technical expertise to create a secure server for your kids and their friends. “If they play with friends that they know in public servers, they should stick to first names or agreed on fun names but best not to mention full names and schools or hometowns, just in case.”
- Get your child to point out any inappropriate messages they may get. Prompt them, if necessary. If they learn to do this on their own, not only can you use the opportunity to teach them, but you’ll also be building up your trust in your child as well.
Unfortunately, there’s a lot of stuff out there that’s simply not appropriate for children. Even if you filter the internet at home, what happens outside the home? “Your home isn’t the only place your children will access the Internet. Don’t delude yourself - it is an unfiltered world out there,” says Heitner.
Don’t leave them alone to surf at very tender ages, and use the together time as teaching moments. “Talk about what they can search for, and what they shouldn’t. Show them how to detect an inappropriate site - before they click on a link.” Supervise young kids playing games on public servers or being on apps like Musical.ly.
Meanwhile, don’t let the digital demons rule your household. Be the parent that has unplugged meals with your family, adds Heitner. Model focused conversation, eye-contact, and turning off all devices during family time, otherwise it will be very difficult to get your teen or tween to unplug and be present - ever.
20% of teens have received an unwanted sexual solicitation online, including requests to engage in sexual activities or sexual talk.
25% of children have been exposed to unwanted pornographic material online.
Only 33% of households protect their children with filtering or blocking software.
75% of children are willing to share personal information online about themselves and their family in exchange for goods and services.
Less than 25% of children who was sexually approached or solicited online told a parent or adult.
77% of the targets for online predators were age 14 or older; another 22% were ages 10 to 13.
Parents of 13 to 17 year olds keep tabs on their kid’s digital behaviour, according to a 2016 Pew Research Center survey.
61% of parents check the websites that their teenagers visited
60% visit their social media accounts
48% scrolled through their phone calls and messages
16% tracked their whereabouts through their cellphones
- Crimes Against Children Research Center
- Center for Missing and Exploited Children
Protecting children from sexual abuse
The Canadian Centre for Child Protection is a national charity dedicated to the personal safety of all children. The Centre's goal is to reduce child victimization by providing programs and serves to the Canadian public.
Just recently, the Centre introduced a a new free resource to help parents talk online safety with their kids. Safety Rocks is an activity book aimed at children in Grades 3 and 4, and teach important personal safety strategies that apply both offline and online. “It’s important for parents to get into the habit of talking about personal safety with their kids,” said Noni Classen, director of education at the Canadian Centre for Child Protection.