It’s important that parents set guidelines for their children when it comes to using the Internet.
Colleen Taylor, a children’s community developer with the Western Ottawa Community Resource Centre, spoke to a group of parents at W. Erskine Johnston Public School on Feb. 7 about how to keep children safe online.
“You make that judgment call over how much access they have,” she said. “Set some guidelines.”
Parents need to talk to their children about the possible dangers of the Internet, including privacy, luring, cyber-bullying and the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships.
“Teach them to respect those instincts,” said Taylor. “Help set up the accounts with them.
“You can make up a contract with them … so they know ahead of time what their privileges are and the consequences.”
Of course, there are many benefits to the Internet as well, she said, citing the ability to research, complete homework and talk to family members living around the world.
The biggest priority is “to keep our children safe online,” said Taylor.
One way to do that is to keep the family computer in a public location, such as the den or kitchen, and collect cellphones and other devices before bed.
Also, talk to them about the importance of keeping passwords private.
“Half of them know each other’s passwords,” said Taylor, adding this can make hacking an account easy. “Remind them to keep this information private.”
By age 10, about 89 per cent of children have access to the Internet. In 2005, one in seven children had been sexually solicited online, said Taylor.
“With instant messaging you may not know who you’re talking to online,” she said. “It’s a great field for someone to impersonate someone else.”
Which is why it’s important for parents to have a discussion with their children and let them know if they come across anything disturbing or upsetting, or if they’re asked to meet someone they only know online, they can talk to an adult about it, said Taylor.
“If they see something illegal, harmful, upsetting, they can talk to a safe adult.”
The pervasiveness and immediacy of technology allows bullying to carry beyond the playground and follow children home. Thirty-five per cent of youth have been threatened online.
“Now children can’t get away from all of this,” said Taylor.
Signs a child may be the victim of cyber-bullying include becoming withdrawn and fearful, becoming upset after using the Internet or a lack of interest in using the computer when it was something they used to enjoy.
Children could be afraid of telling an adult they’re being bullied online because they’re ashamed or afraid they could lose their Internet privileges.
“They might think nobody can help or nobody will help,” said Taylor.
Children can now be suspended from school for cyber-bullying thanks to the Safe Schools Act. As well, schools must report cyber-bullying and take it seriously.
To report online bullying:
* Set up a meeting with the school.
* Bring specific details in writing, such as text messages, screen shots and emails.
* Ask about the school’s procedures to keep children safe.
* Change emails, screen names and phone numbers.
* If it’s not taken seriously, bring it to the school board.
“If it gets to a certain point, the police can be called,” said Taylor.
Sexting is a form of sending sexually suggestive pictures or video. If a child under 18 engages in this type of behaviour or is the recipient of a message, they or their parents could face child pornography charges.
“They seem to think it’s quite innocent,” said Taylor. “These things go viral really quickly.”
Twenty per cent of teenagers are engaging in sexting, said Taylor, adding 22 per cent are teenage girls and 18 per cent are teenage boys.
However, 11 per cent of young girls between the ages of 13 and 16 have also admitted to sexting. As well, children between the ages of 12 and 17 are the largest group of Internet pornography viewers.
“You don’t need to feel shy about going in and checking,” said Taylor. “You pay for the phone … you pay for the (Internet).”
With new technologies constantly emerging, parents need to know what sites their children are visiting. Twitter, Facebook, instant messaging systems and gaming websites can open up new worlds of possibility and danger.
Taylor talked about a case study where a student set up a fake Facebook account and sent friend invitations to students she’d never met. Within 24 hours, she had more than 149 friends: “nobody that she actually knew.”
The fake account then had access to all the information available on her “friends’” pages.
It’s also important to point out that photos, comments and videos posted online never disappear completely once deleted.
“So many children think once you delete it, it’s gone,” said Taylor. “What goes online stays online pretty much forever.”
It’s important to “think before you click.”
Online gaming can become an addiction, and with live chat options young children can become privy to explicit language.
“Know what your children are using,” said Taylor, adding parents can check their browser history or ask their children to show them what sites they frequent. “You do have to be aware.”