Advice on safety issues from our partners
Below are some issues that we know can often be concerning to parents. We work closely with a number of child safety organizations in Canada and we’ve included advice from these partners in the sections below.
- Sexually explicit and violent material
- Meeting strangers online
- Sharing too much personal information
- Exposure to vulgar language
- Sites promoting inappropriate behaviors such as eating disorders and drug use
Protecting your child from sexually explicit and violent material
Young people are naturally curious about sexuality and the internet provides a convenient and private way to get answers to their questions. If kids are finding good and accurate information about sexual health or healthy relationships that’s a positive thing, but if the bulk of their exposure is to pornography, then they may be receiving distorted – or even violent and deviant – messages about relationships and sexual behaviour. It is therefore very important that parents take an active role in their kids’ internet use: monitoring their activities when they are young, and as they get older talking to them about healthy relationships and sexuality, to help them contextualize and make decisions about what they’re seeing online. See more tips on how to manage sexually explicit online content.
Parents today are up against a popular media culture in which violence is often glamourized and the lines are blurred between humour and hate, making it difficult to teach children about respecting others and finding non-violent solutions to conflicts. On the internet young people are exposed to a spectrum of violent content ranging from mature-rated movies and video games, real-life scenes of violence on news sites, to nasty and even racist humour on popular sites. Monitoring children’s internet use is key to protecting them from disturbing content, while older kids need to learn to respect others online and to respond appropriately to violent content when they come upon it. See more tips on how to manage violent and hateful online content.
In today’s world children are exposed to a multitude of sexual messages through mass media: television, music, Internet, and advertisement. Never before have parents and professionals been more concerned about children’s exposure to this sort of content and the impacts it may have on a child’s healthy sexual development. Research suggests that early exposure to sexually explicit material is likely to have a negative influence on children and therefore it is important to help children develop critical thinking skills using age-appropriate information. Read more about the impacts of viewing explicit materials and what you can do to address this with your child (PDF download).
Reducing the risk of your child meeting strangers online
When it comes to online sexual exploitation, some youths are more at risk than others. Thirteen to 15-year-old girls are most vulnerable, particularly those who voluntarily place themselves in risky situations- by engaging in online discussions with strangers, flirting and talking about sex online, and by publicly posting personal and intimate information in web environments such as social networking sites. It’s also important to note that young people who are most at risk online also tend to be those who are most at risk offline. Parents should discuss healthy relationships with their kids, and impress on them that they should never feel pressured into something they don’t want to do, when online. Read more information on this topic.
Sexual offenders can target social networking and gaming sites in an effort to develop relationships with children. Through engaging with these children over time, they can lure the children into meeting with them. It is important that your child knows that they are never to disclose personal information (name, age, location, photographs) while online, nor should they ever agree to meet anyone with anyone they’ve chatted with online without first getting permission. It is also important that parents are aware what their child is doing while online. The Canadian Centre for Child Protection helps parents to learn how to better protect their children with the Door That’s Not Locked website – a one-stop site for everything about Internet safety.
Stopping them sharing too much personal information
An important concept young people need to grasp is that their personal information has value and belongs to them. Whether it’s to manage their reputation, stay safe, or protect themselves from invasive marketing practices, young people need to develop skills to manage their online privacy. Parents must teach their children the value of their personal information – starting when they first go online. Kids should be taught to only give out the minimum of information to be able to use a website. Parents should get into the habit of reading the privacy policies on their kids’ favourite sites to understand what will happen to any information that is solicited. When using social networking sites, young people should ensure their privacy settings are set so that only friends can see their content. Read more information on managing online privacy.
If asked to share and your parents aren’t aware, say no. That’s the simple rule kids need to adhere to while online. Children need to know that they must keep all personal information off the Internet – name, age, location, and photographs. Once that information is out there, there is no getting it back. Parents should ensure that their child knows to never share any sort of personal information and monitor their child’s Internet use. For more about the risks your child may face while online and strategies to keep them safe, visit www.kidsintheknow.ca and www.thedoorthatsnotlocked.ca.
Helping to stop cyberbullying
Cyberbullying, which can be the equivalent of “social death” for many young people, can be very traumatic. It differs from traditional, face-to-face bullying in that it is relentless and public, and at the same time anonymous. Add to this the potential presence of countless, invisible witnesses and/or collaborators to the cyberbullying, and you have a situation where victims are left unsure of who knows, and whom to fear. The best response to cyberbullying is a pro-active and preventative one. Parents should set rules for younger children, including never provide personally identifiable information online, don’t share passwords with friends, and treat everyone with respect. With teenagers, parents need to discuss the nature of their online interactions and responsible use of the internet. To respond to a cyberbullying incident, parents should meet with school officials if the perpetrator is a peer from school. If the activity includes threats, it should be reported to the local police. Young people can call Kids Help Phone, at 1-800-668-6868, for advice on dealing with bullying. Read more advice on cyberbullying.
Reducing their exposure to vulgar language
Unfortunately, vulgar language is fairly common in many internet environments, even on sites that deal with subjects of interest to children and teens (computer games, comics, music, etc.) A few online environments, such as some online games, feature a “swear filter” that automatically blocks out obscene language, though users often find ways to work around these filters. The best filters are those that do not let the user know his or her comment has been filtered, so that they will not seek out a way around the filter. Talk to your kids early about the kind of language they might encounter online. Although you don’t have to be overly specific, being open about what’s out there will remove some of the thrill of encountering or using “forbidden” words. In addition, children should be taught early on that language that may be used in one context may not be appropriate for others.
Sites promoting inappropriate behaviours such as eating disorders or drug use
Some user-created sites on the internet serve to promote harmful or risk-taking behaviors such as self-harm, anorexia/bulimia, drug use and even suicide. These sites serve as communities for people who either engage in or are interested in these behaviors, making them seem more normal. As a result, youth who frequent these sites may begin to engage in the behaviors or, if they already do so, may be pushed to more extreme activities. However, it is extremely rare for youth to make a habit of visiting these sites unless they are already interested in the in the activities in question; therefore, parents must deal with both the online and offline aspects of the behavior. Parents should keep an open dialogue with their children about issues such as body image, suicide and self-harm. They shouldn’t worry that discussing these issues with children will “give them ideas”; in fact, talking about these issues can be a great relief for kids, making them feel less isolated. Parents should always model healthy attitudes towards thing such as food and body image, emotional openness and drug or alcohol use.
Malware: What is it and how to ensure your kids don’t install it on your computer
Malware is the generic term for any software that causes harm to your computer. This can include programs such as viruses (which attach themselves to other programs), trojans (which disguise themselves as other programs), spyware (which provide the programmer with access to your computer or its data) and keyloggers (which record everything you type and send it to the programmer.) Malware can have a number of effects on your computer, from stealing your data to hurting your computer’s performance, to making it stop working entirely. Parent should teach their kids to not download anything from the internet unless it is from a trusted source and to never click on any links that come anonymously through e-mail.
Make sure you don’t have Torrent software installed on your computer. This software allows peer-to-peer (P2P) downloading and many Torrent files are actually malware. The most common Torrent programs are uTorrent and Vuze (formerly called Azuerus). Use your browser’s security tools and also install good anti-malware software on your computer (Be careful, though: there is a lot of malware available that masquerades as anti-malware).