I recently attended a presentation by the Canadian Centre for Child Protection Services. I feel compelled as an employee of Cisco, one of the key enablers of the Internet, to share what I learned. The online world can be a very exciting place for kids and youth, giving them the ability to do research for school projects, play games and interact with one another. But the Internet is a completely public environment, one that can pose risks to kids and youth and that provides a challenge for us as parents to help protect them. My industry requires me to keep up with technology trends. However, there are many parents and educators of my generation who are unaware of what children are exposed to online. The Internet, Facebook, smartphones and Skype are tools that are enabling children to fall victim of abuse and bullying.
The last presentation I went to on Internet safety cautioned parents to have the computer in the kitchen or family room, where you could monitor your child’s computer activity. In the age of smartphones, iPods, Internet gaming and tablets it is becoming increasingly harder as a parent to monitor that activity. Today kids could be in the back seat of your car, in another room or at a friend’s house accessing the Internet. Although we would like to – you cannot always look over their shoulder. Or as my kids text it, AITR (adult in the room) or PAW (parents are watching).
We cannot prevent people from doing bad things but we can teach our kids to recognize inappropriate behaviour and talk to an adult about it. We need to foster strong individuals and teach behaviours that prevent risk.
Cybertip.ca is Canada’s national tip line to protect children against sexual exploitation. Their primary function is to receive, and address, online and telephone reports from the public regarding: Child Pornography, Online luring, Child Exploitation through prostitution and Child Trafficking. On average, Cybertip.ca receives over 700 reports and 75,000 page views per month. This to me is a staggering number, especially when you consider that this does not reflect events that go unreported.
It is important to take the time to talk to your children about the benefits and potential pitfalls of this new on-line world. How easy is it for us as adults to hide behind email? Would you have said those things if you were face to face? We need to teach our children to be diligent about the pictures that are taken of them and shared publically over the Internet, never to be erased. Public education in our schools and at home is the best way to help protect our kids.
If your children are on Facebook, check the number of friends they have. IKR! How is it possible? Now go back and ask them: do you trust those friends to have the keys to your house while you are away? And whatever you do, don’t let them post that they are going to the cottage or away on a summer trip. The funniest thing I see is when adults and kids use their smart phone to check into places. I am at Pearson Airport – I am obviously going away and you have enough time to break into my house!!!!
Here are links to some online safety strategies to help you start the discussion with your children.