written by: Shana Murray, Community Programs Manager, Howe Sound Women’s Centre Society


When September comes around and kids head back to school, parents scramble to check those back to school items off their list. These items may include shopping for new hip clothing, a long list of school supplies and possibly your child’s first mobile device or the newest model for your teen.  According to Media Smarts in 2013, one quarter (24%) of students in grade 4, half (52%) of students in Grade 7, and 85% of students in Grade 11 have their own cell phone and 99 percent of students have access to the internet outside of school  (http://mediasmarts.ca/research-policy). While mobile devices and access to the internet have many benefits to children’s learning, there are potential risks that parents should be aware of.


In a 2011 survey of 416 Canadian Teens, 51% of teens have had a negative experience with social networking, 25% of girls and 17% of boys have witnessed online harassment, and 16% said someone posted an embarrassing photo of them (http://www.stopabully.ca/bullying-statistics.html). Children and youth are spending more and more time online. Online communication is part of their identity, part of their relationships and how they connect with others.  They learn from their experiences and seek entertainment from it.  As parents, it is our responsibility to ensure our children/youth are aware of the potential risks and educated on how to keep themselves safe online. Take preventative action. Learn about cyber safety and engage in dialogue about cyber safety with your child/youth.


Why Do We Need To Be Concerned?

Technology and social media such as texting, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat present potential safety concerns for children and youth, including:

Cyber bullying – the use of technology to bully a person or group. Bullying is repeated behaviour with the intent to harm others. Behaviour many include: abusive texts and emails, posting unkind or threatening messages, videos or images on social media sites, intimidating or excluding others, and inappropriate image tagging.

Sexting – sending provocative or sexual photos, messages or videos. Young people often consider sexting as a way of connecting in a relationship.

Sextortion – is a form of sexual exploitation that employs non-physical forms of coercion to extort sexual favors from the victim. Sextortion refers to the broad category of sexual exploitation in which abuse of power is the means of coercion, as well as to the category of sexual exploitation in which threatened release of sexual images or information is the means of coercion.

Grooming – is the illegal act of adults making contact with a child online for the purpose of establishing a sexual relationship. This often happens via social networking sites but may also be initiated through other online services.

Identity Theft – is fraud which involves stealing money or gaining other benefits by pretending to be someone else.

Digital Reputation – all internet users have a digital or online reputation. This is the opinion or view that others have about the user based on what they say or do. Inappropriate or illegal pictures posted on the internet can have far reaching consequences throughout that individual’s life. For example, a Google search by admissions or hiring managers may affect that individual’s university application or impact hiring decisions to secure that dream job.

Inappropriate or illegal content – may include topics, images or other information that is illegal in Canada or could be damaging to young people online. Content may include footage of simulated or real violence, criminal activity or accidents, promote extreme political or religious views, or be sexually explicit which may include illegal images of child sexual abuse. Content may also include hate towards individuals or certain groups of people, instruct or promote crime, violence or unsafe behavior.


Keeping Your Kids Safe Online

Appreciating potential safety concerns, how can we as parent and caregivers help mitigate the risks associated with the use of technology and social media tools? Firstly, spend time learning about your child’s online activity by having discussions about what s/he likes to do online and what sites s/he likes to visit. Ask your child or youth to show you how to find something online or play a game together. If you show a genuine interest in what they are doing and spend time doing it with them, you will learn from them. It will also give you opportunities to talk about online behaviours and how important it is to treat people online as you would treat them in person. Set the safety settings together, talk about the potential risks, and discuss why safety settings are important. If you make an effort to spend time with your child/youth online regularly, they are more likely to seek your support when issues arise.


Establish Guidelines

Establishing guidelines with your child or youth is going to give them the message that you care about their safety and that you are interested in what they are doing. Coming up with guidelines together may help. Some guidelines to keep in mind are:

  • Keeping the computer in an area where you can keep an eye on what they are doing (kitchen or dining area). This also allows you to ask questions and show your interest.
  • Establish limits for which online sites your child/youth may visit and how long they are spending online.
  • Ensure your child/youth spends time unplugged. It is important that they continue activities that they enjoy offline. One of the most important guidelines you may want to consider is keeping all devices in the kitchen at night. More and more children/youth are sleeping with their cell phone at night. This can cause sleep disturbances (receiving and waiting for texts) and disruptions to homework and unplugged time.


How Can You Support Your Child Through Negative Online Experiences?

Be open – keep an open mind to what your child tells you. This will help to establish trust.

Listen – It is really important to listen when your child comes to talk with you. Make time for them so they know that they are important and that you will support them through difficult times.

Believe – always believe what they are saying and ask how you can help.

Don’t get mad – it is important that your child/youth feels that they can talk to you when things are not going well for them. If you always get mad or threaten to punish them, they may not feel comfortable talking to you in the future. This doesn’t mean there will not be consequences for their behaviors or actions; however, if it’s done in a fair and respectful way, when your child really needs you, they won’t hesitate to come to you for help.

Don’t take away their mobile device – do not take away or threaten to take away their devices. Taking away their mobile device may force them to become more secretive and reluctant to talk to you about what is going on with them in the future for fear of losing their connection to their peers.

At the end of the day the internet is not going away. It is only going to become more important in the lives of our children and youth. This reality makes it very important as parents to stay on top of what our children/youth are doing online just as it is important to know what our children/youth are doing offline.

It is our responsibility to teach, support and protect our children in all areas of life. Do your part. Educate yourself and have conversations with your kids. You will help keep them safe and learn a great deal of information from them if you keep an open mind and make yourself available.


Where to Get Help and Other Resources?

RCMP – 911 (non-emergency 604.892.6100)

Howe Sound Women’s Centre Society – 604.892.5748

School Counsellor (call your local school)

Children of the Street – 1.604.777.7510

Plea Community Services – 1.604.871.0450

Kids Help Phone – 1.800.668.6868