Unfortunately, we face a grim reality around sexual abuse online against children. The question remains: How can parents identify and address the problem and how do we better navigate internet usage and safety for our children?
A study conducted via the Centre for Cyber Safety and Education assessed the usage of kids between grades 4 and 8, and the results were quite alarming. From the findings, some of the more damning statistics indicated that 40% of the kids surveyed had either connected or chatted with a stranger online. Of those:
- 53% had revealed their phone number to a stranger.
- 21% spoke via phone with a stranger.
- 15% attempted to meet a stranger.
- 11% met a stranger in their own home, the stranger’s home, a park, mall or restaurant.
- 30% texted a stranger from their phone.
- 6% revealed their home address to a stranger.
Scarily, 90% of these kids revealed they have at least one device capable of unmoderated browsing. This indicates a serious problem with potentially devastating consequences, as not only are our kids sitting ducks but there is a world full of dangerous predators ready, willing and able to take advantage of them.
What can we, as parents, do about it?
Thankfully there is a variety of behaviour and technology-based controls for parents to implement to safeguard their families:
- Parents can moderate airtime and restrict access between certain hours. For example, no device time if they’re meant to be studying or sleeping, and move the family devices to common areas where you can keep an eye on their browsing habits. For toddlers, you can download content in advance and switch off the connection later, and even games or social media should be carefully controlled.
- It’s relatively easy to regulate your kid’s social media content. Teach your young ones what not to share with the outside world (particularly new people), as predators take advantage of naivete. Educate them on not revealing private information such as plans, addresses or whereabouts, and maintain an open line of communication so that they’re not afraid to confide in you. Be open and explain the dangers, and don’t yell if they make a mistake, let them feel like you’re there to listen should anything unwanted occur.
- You should also educate your kids on the dangers of adding, accepting or meeting strangers online (again, even when gaming). Remember that it’s easy to change your identity and pretend to be someone else, which is what many people do to gain the trust of their victims. Warn your little ones about the dangers of meeting anyone they don’t know and enforce strict rules around keeping you informed of their whereabouts at all times.
- Lastly, set Internet guidelines and disable location services via your apps. Keep an eye out for behavioural changes including sudden secrecy, unexplained gifts or increased alone time. As a parent, you usually instinctively know when your child is upset. However, pay close attention to their behaviour for anything unusual; particularly before, during and after going online.
Although your first steps should be correcting browsing behaviour, there are several tools designed to protect your kids online which should be considered your primary line of defence.
Parents should consider trusted security software that helps keep their kids safe online by allowing them to block access to adult websites and content, block inappropriate apps as well as harmful search requests on YouTube, manage access to games and even screen time by device.
Further protections can include using the GPS tracking feature of smartphones to locate your children in real-time and even having the ability to define "safe zones", with instant alerts if your children move beyond the selected area.
Some good examples of software to look at include an Anti Virus for the Home with a Safe kids function, social media and dark web scanners, firewall products for the home or DNS security solutions.
In your journey to make things safer for your child, the more protection the better. Sadly, predators are real, and any kid can be a victim. As a parent, I strongly believe in all the products and measures stated above, and I pray that these may be of similar assistance to you.