Tag Archives: Internet

Stranger danger online: What parents need to know

The recent spate of news stories about young girls going missing in the Montreal area has a lot of parents worried. The police have said they have evidence that the girls, who were living in a Laval group home, may have been lured away by gangs for sexual exploitation. The disappearances have been linked to the use of social media to target young, vulnerable teens. Five girls have gone missing over the last month, and four have been located. 17-year-old Vanessa Ticas still has not been found.

SextingNow I have always argued that most kids, most of the time, are far more at risk from the people they know than strangers on line. The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that abductions by strangers account for only 1% of kidnappings. Far more common are kidnapping by parents in a custody dispute, or someone else related to the family. When it comes to sexual abuse, it is estimated that 8 out of 10 abused children know their abuser offline.

Kids are far more likely to be harmed online by their peers, whether its through bullying or the non-consensual sharing of sexual images. However, there are clearly many risks online for children and teens. When you mix kids and adults, anonymity, spontaneity and the incredible power of digital technology, people are likely to get hurt. So what can parents do to help keep their kids safe from strangers online?

Start young. The best strategy is to begin age-appropriate conversations about the power and challenges of online tools from the time kids are very young. It’s much harder to introduce supervision, rules and consequences with a 14-year-old. Children get online as soon as they can click or swipe, and many start with gaming accounts, progressing to email, messaging and social media. Your young children and preteens should ask permission before they open any accounts, and should share passwords with parents. Sit next to them to configure privacy settings. Don’t know how? Google is a user manual for everything – show them you are interested in learning about these tools.

Teach online “street smarts.” They need to be told over and over that nothing they do online should ever be considered private, whether it’s a text message to your best friend, an email to a classmate, or a picture sent to a boyfriend. They need to understand that even though their computer feels private , it’s actually very public and they should behave accordingly. Explain repeatedly how easy it is for someone to “pass” as someone else, whether it’s an older man passing as a teen boy, a student pretending to be a teacher, or a stranger pretending to be a friend.

Be frank about the risks. Parenting in 2016 means putting aside your embarrassment and addressing sex online. Kids today have access to the kinds of sexualized images adults couldn’t legally get their hands on 10 years ago. You are kidding yourself if you think your kid hasn’t seen porn online, accidentally in a pop-up, or through a search. They need to understand the meaning of sharing sexualized images of themselves or others. And both young girls and boys need to be told that others may try to “groom” them for exploitation by being charming or flattering, promising gifts or extra attention. This resource on sexual trafficking of kids by gangs has some great tips. This document from BC is also very useful.

Set rules. Establish consequences. Follow through. If you don’t want your teen using video chat in a room with a closed door, make that clear and follow through. If you want your child to notify you by text whenever they change locations (going to a movie, going to a friend’s house, etc.), make it a condition of owning a cellphone.

Freedom is a privilege to be earned through consistent, responsible behaviour. I’ve said it before, and I believe this is true online and off. Having access to wifi, smartphones, iPads and computers is an incredible privilege. If your child wants privacy from you online, they need to earn it in increments by showing good judgement.

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Teaching kids not to trust superficial identification online

CTV News

Click on image to view video.

CTV News interviewed me for this terrible story about a 24-year-old man who posed as a young girl on Facebook to lure 11 to 13-year-old boys into sending nude pictures of themselves. He would then coerce or blackmail them into sending more by threatening to expose them to their families.

Kids are often quick to take other users’ identities at face value. They don’t yet have the experience and judgement to question such things, or to anticipate this kind of deception. The person on the other end doesn’t have to be a pedophile – it can also be a school bully, or another student attempting a mean-spirited joke.

What can parents tell their kids? If your kids are online, you should bring up the subject of deliberate or mistaken identity switches. Let them know people can do this for all sorts of reasons, out of curiosity, for a joke, to bully someone or to gain someone’s trust to hurt or humiliate them. Tell your children it is unethical – and sometimes illegal – to pass as someone else just to gain their trust. All it takes is a stolen password or using someone else’s picture, and it’s difficult for other users to know what’s going on.

Remind your kids to maintain a healthy dose of suspicion if anyone online asks you to do something that makes you uncomfortable, or that is illegal. It is important that kids know it is against the law to share pictures of anyone under the age of 18 wearing anything less than a bathing suit. Even if he is your boyfriend (or girlfriend). Even if you send it willingly. Tell a trusted adult. And if they don’t do anything, tell someone else.

Most of the time this kind of deception involves a peer, classmate or acquaintance and not a sexual predator online, but the underlying lesson about the ease of deception online remains the same.

 

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Kids and email: What parents need to know about their children online

Children emailYour seven-year-old’s best friend is moving away. She’s really upset about it and wants to keep in touch. Can she have an email account? Pretty please? She promises to use it just to keep in touch with her friend. And maybe her grandparents. And her cousins in Florida. What about her camp friends, and the kid she met on the beach during winter break?

You know it’s the tip of the iceberg. Email is a powerful and immediate way to stay connected, but it also opens up a whole host of questions about safety online, from protecting one’s privacy to enabling the kind of digital communication that can easily be abused, misused or misunderstood. And it also invites questions about all kinds of other activities online, from Instagram to Tumblr and Facebook.

So what age is the right age for a first email account?

It’s a variation of the same question I often hear from parents at my workshops – what age is the right one for surfing the Internet, or getting a cellphone, or starting a blog, or online gaming?

My answer is always the same: there is no magic age when every kid is ready. You need to balance your family values, your child’s level of maturity and responsibility and your comfort level in supervising their activities.

However, I do think that introducing school-aged children to email at home — at a point where you feel comfortable — offers a golden opportunity to establish responsible use of online tools. Here are just some of the topics that you can discuss with your kids about using email:

  • protecting passwords,
  • manners, civility and “netiquette” online,
  • how typed-out words on a screen may not convey nuance, sarcasm and irony the way spoken words do,
  • trusting superficial identification – people can use email to pretend to be someone else,
  • how digital conversations can be forwarded, copied or taken out of context without permission – always assume more than one pair of eyes may read what you write,
  • digital permanence – you can never be sure anything you’ve written or posted is completely deleted.

If you do decide to allow your child to open an email account, consider implementing the following guidelines:

  1. parents should know their usernames and passwords, but ask that they don’t share that information with anyone else,
  2. request that they ask permission from parents before opening any new account,
  3. anything written out in a digital format is not to be considered private and off-limits to parents (if they want privacy, it should be written out longhand on paper),
  4. review emails with your child from time to time (not behind their backs, unless you think they might legitimately be in danger), not to read what their friends write, but so they doesn’t get fooled by spam, viruses and Nigerian princes,
  5. limit the places they use their personal email address, so they don’t become overwhelmed by sales pitches from companies eager to market to children,
  6. that they be good “e-friends,” respecting what others write,
  7. that over time, with demonstration of consistent good judgement and responsibility, parents will give their children additional increments of privacy online.

The goal is support and teach your children how to become good digital citizens — after all, this is the world they will inherit. They need to learn these healthy online habits somewhere, and it’s ideal if they are reinforced in the home. So go ahead and let your second-grader open her (or his) very own email account, but make sure s/he has the tools, resources and supervision to handle it responsibly.

 

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