In recent months, a handful of New Brunswick families found out the hard way that if kids have internet access, they also have access to all the bad things that come along with the online world. Four children between the ages of eight and twelve voluntarily sent nude images or videos of themselves that were later discovered by RCMP on various unspecified free websites.
Perhaps the only positive outcome from this story is that because it hits so close to home, it serves as a much-needed wake-up call to other parents, who will often say, “My kid wouldn’t do that” — but we’re learning that, in 2019, you may know your child, but if you don’t monitor their internet activities, you can never really be sure what they’re up to.
Prevention, not punishment
This stuff is scary, but there are effective ways of protecting kids from the darker side of this age of connectivity. Rather than punishing negative behaviour after the fact, prevent it.
How, you ask? Two approaches work.
First: Maintain an open dialogue with children about what’s acceptable online. Make yourself out to be an ally, not an enemy, so that kids feel comfortable bringing issues to you before they even begin.
Ask kids who they’re talking to online, explain to them that adults shouldn’t be pursuing relationships with kids, talk about healthy versus unhealthy relationships, about ways to get out of uncomfortable situations online, and talk openly about what kinds of thing you do online so children know how the internet should be used.
Second: It doesn’t get much more tangible than physically removing devices from kids’ bedrooms —especially anything with a webcam. They don’t need it!
Prevent your child from seeing things they shouldn’t online by changing some basic security settings — monitor the settings of the device itself, as well as your ISP settings.
Take safety a step further by plugging a cool gadget like CleanRouter or Circle into your router. These control what all other devices are able to do while on the Wi-Fi network at home: they can filter out age-inappropriate content, set internet curfews, and generally monitor what kids are doing online.
It can happen to you, but it doesn’t have to
Studies show that 60% of people under the age of 30 have created an intimate image of themselves — by the time a pic is snapped it can make its way out of your hands. If adults can fall victim to this kind of thing, kids obviously can too.
It’s important to remind your children (and yourself!) of the legal implications of online activities — sharing intimate images without consent is illegal.
A good guideline: Tell your kids, “Don’t do anything online that you wouldn’t do at the mall.”