The Internet is an incredible tool for both you and your children. From researching a project for school on ancient China, to planning a family trip, to communicating with family and friends, the internet can do it all. Unfortunately the internet can also be harmful to some, especially children.

The internet is a portal directly into your home or into the cell phone in your front pocket. It is a connection with the rest of the world that can be both positive and negative. Viruses, identity theft, pornographic material, and people intending to take advantage of others are all potential issues you and your children may encounter while using the internet.

With all the bad out there, how can you possibly protect your children from coming into contact with it? Unfortunately you can’t protect them from everything, they are bound to come across inappropriate content at some point, however there are many things a parent can do to reduce this risk and to ensure children act appropriately if they do come into contact with such material. Two of the main things a parent can do are to be aware and to talk to their children about the use of computers and the internet openly.

Awareness and Communication

Being aware means knowledge of what exists on the internet; both good and bad. Further, knowledge of how one might access that information whether it be intentional or accidental. For example, a simple spelling mistake could make the word Lego the word Legs instead, and provide many inappropriate results in an internet search.

It is also important to know what things are popular for children to do on the internet; which sites they go to, what things they learn about, who they speak to. Understanding what they do most often will allow you to understand what they may be at risk of coming into contact the most.

Speaking with your children about internet safety issues is also very important. If your child comes across something they are concerned about it is important they feel comfortable enough to talk to you about it. Further, it is also important they know what is and is not appropriate. An open communication relationship also allows for increased awareness on the parents part; children will tell their parents what they are doing so parents don’t have to worry as much about the unknown.

For more information on internet safety issues and safe practices for your children you may want to visit these websites:

Filtering and Monitoring Software

Beyond awareness and open communication there are other methods parents can take to protect their children from the harms of the internet.

One way is for parents is to install what is called filtering software. Filtering software is a program that you install on your computer that blocks or prevents children from accessing certain sites or finding information regarding certain topics. Some programs can also put limits on what a user can download or e-mail and some others may also be installed on smartphones (advanced cellphones.)

Some parents do not like to use filtering software, and instead prefer to monitor what their child is doing on the Internet. There are various programs that allow parents to retrace their child’s steps on the Internet or scan the computer for lists of inappropriate material. Parents’ who choose this option will be given a report of their child’s activities on the Internet, allowing you as a parent to discuss issues that your child may have been exposed to.

Here are a few filtering and monitoring programs that we are aware of:

It is important to remember that these programs are meant to be used to monitor your children’s safety, not as a tool to spy on your children. Further, even if you have a monitoring program or filter your children may be able to bypass the programs; there are probably just as many programs and websites intended to get around such programs as there are programs.

While parents may use one or all of these options, beware – there are no current devices that are 100% fool proof. If a certain word used in a search engine is not necessarily a word that would cause you concern, you may want to think again. This is why it is important to discuss internet use issues with your children so they know what is inappropriate and how to act if they come across it.

What Sites Has Your Child Been Visiting?

If you would like to check what websites your child has been visiting there is an easy way to access this information yourself without computer software. This can be done through checking the history of the web browser. Different browsers have different ways of viewing the history but one can generally find the history in options or a top menu. Keep in mind however that your child may know how to erase the history of what they have browsed.

Tips for Parents

The computer in your home on which you choose to hook up the Internet should be in a central or open area in the home rather than a private room or bedroom. This way, you can somewhat monitor what your child is accessing on the Internet.

If you happen to be one of the many parents whose children are more computer/Internet savvy than you, sit down with your children and ask them to teach you what they know. Ask them specific questions, such as “How do I get into a chat room?” or “How do I find…” Most children are more than pleased to teach an adult what they know. Surprisingly, the Internet really is not all that difficult to learn. Much can be learned simply through trial and error and most likely that is how your child has learned much of what she or he knows.

Parents should also take the time to get to know who their child’s online friends are, as this will make the cyber predator’s task more difficult.

Search Engines for Children

Popular search engines such as Google and Yahoo can retrieve millions of results, some of which are bound to be inappropriate. Protect your children from visiting inappropriate sites on the internet by using these recommended and approved search engines for children. The search engine automatically filters out inappropriate material for children.

  • www.askforkids.com – This site answers questions children and young teens may have while returning safe and educational sources of information.
  • www.dibdabdoo.com – This site is designed for children’s fun and learning.
  • www.kids.yahoo.com – This site provides educational links and fun for children.
  • www.google.ca/familysafety/tools.html – A link to information about Google Safe Search. It allows users to filter search results through google so that it filters out inappropriate content.

Too Much Time Online?

You should watch for how much time your child is spending on the Internet. If all of a sudden, your children have taken a really keen interest in being on-line that in itself may not be a problem, but keep an eye on them and what they are doing. If a great deal of their spare time is on the Internet that should probably raise some flags. So, that is why it may be best to set time limits in the first place.

If your child becomes secretive as to what they are doing and where they are visiting on the net, that too is also a really good indication that perhaps they are accessing a few things that they don’t want you to know about. On the other hand, much like the family telephone, you may just have some chatty kids who want to e-mail and chat with all of their friends.

If you are concerned about your child spending too much time on the Internet then it might be a good idea to set some time limits. If you feel that won’t be sufficient there are various programs that you can get that will limit your child’s time on the Internet, and simply lock them out when they have used up their weekly time. Others simply turn the internet connection off at a certain time of the day or night.

Predators: General Safety

One problem with the Internet is that anyone is allowed to access it. Unfortunately, that includes predators. Whenever children interact with others online they should be warned that everyone may not be who they say they are. This goes for instant messaging, social networking sites, and chatrooms.

Predators make it a career of gaining the trust of unsuspecting children, and unfortunately they can lie about anything, their age, name, etc. These predators operate solely on a child’s trust and work to build up that trust until they are able to use it to get personal information out of a child. Many children get worn down into giving this information because they think they are communicating with someone their own age. Parents need to set internet safety rules for their children, such as the following:

  1. Never give out your real or full name, this also includes family member names
  2. Never give out your home address, including the city you live in
  3. Never give out your telephone number
  4. Never give out your age or any other personal information about you or your family
  5. If you find a web site that makes you uncomfortable or someone e-mails you something that makes you uncomfortable, leave the site and do not respond to the sender, that sender can also be blocked. Tell your parents immediately.
  6. Never send anyone a picture of yourself over the internet, unless you have your parent’s permission
  7. Never make arrangements to meet in person anyone you have met over the internet without your parent’s permission
  8. Never open or respond to e-mail from a source or someone you do not know, it could contain a virus which could infect your computer
  • Most children who have been victims of internet predators met them willingly, on the false pretense that they were a peer (boy or girl of a similar age).
  • Parents should stress that the same rules apply to cyberspace strangers as to those encountered in the real world.
  • The key to child safety is communication, education and supervision by parents.

Instant Messaging (IM)

(MSN, Skype, ICQ, Trillian, Yahoo Messenger)

The big difference between instant messaging and chat rooms is that IM conversations are only with those who you add as ‘friends’ and although one can talk to many ‘friends’ (group chats), they are generally one on one. A persons ‘friends’ or those in their buddy list can see when they are online and initiate a chat. Chat rooms on the other hand often allow anyone to enter the room and will often have designated topics for people to talk about, i.e. cars or investment issues.

Although this method of communication is a cost effective way to stay in touch with family and friends, there are possible dangers associated with using instant messaging. Some predators will use instant messaging to attempt to lure children. Here are a few ways parents can help ensure instant messaging is safe. First, children should be supervised when using instant messaging forums, and second, children adding friends to their personal list should be approved by a parent (do not add individuals you do not know).

Warn your children that the text typed in IM conversations can be saved. Warn them not to write anything they would not want everyone seeing.

Social Networking Websites

(Facebook, Google+, Myspace, Hi5, Friendster)

Social Networking Websites are very popular with youth and young adults and are becoming increasingly popular with younger children. They allow people to connect with others online through messages, videos, pictures, events, links, and more. They can be a great way to connect with friends and family, to do homework, or to hear about events but unfortunately they can also pose risks.

One issue is identity theft. Providing certain info on social media site profiles such as birth dates, full names, addresses, and photos can make it very easy for someone to steal a person’s identity.

This information may also assist internet predators who use social media sites to victimize children and youth. A teenager who posts a picture of themselves in front of their school and also posts which city they are from in their profile can allow a predator to find the school resembling the photo very easily. Suddenly an impersonal interaction through a computer can turn very personal.

Internet predators can work from the comfort of their home and come into contact with dozens or hundreds of people in a day. The person can disguise themselves as practically anyone they want to; easily pretending to be a child or teen to befriend several similarly aged persons. Luring children no longer presents itself as a problem only outside of the home but now predators can access children inside the children’s home as well. Whether it is children agreeing to meet up with strangers online or strangers convincing youth to take pictures or videos of themselves and post them or send them online, children and youth are now vulnerable within their own homes.

In order to protect children and youth from such victimization a few things can be done.

One of the most important things to consider about internet safety on social networking sites is privacy. All social media sites have the ability to control what people see about you and who sees what. Not providing that information in the first place will protect users even more but if children want certain information online they can ensure that only their friends see it.

Parents should warn their children about the following:

  • Do not post any personal information about yourself (photo, ethnicity, location, phone number, school, favorite hang outs, or even a mall located near you).Further, get to know the privacy settings; what can be controlled and to what extent.
  • Protect your password. Do not share your passwords with acquaintances or friends.
  • You should not add strangers to your friend list. People may pretend to be someone they are not by presenting a fake name, information or picture. Make sure you really know who someone is before adding or accepting them on your friends list.
  • If you are being harassed, receiving hate speech, or inappropriate content you should report it the social networking website.
  • Avoid posting any pictures and/or information that may embarrass you (would you be comfortable with your parents or teacher looking at the information posted on your Facebook page?)
  • What you post online stays online forever. Think before you post. You can remove the original picture but never all the clicks on the picture.
  • Do not say anything online that you wouldn’t say offline.
  • Protect your privacy. Check what your friends may have posted or said about you, it could be putting you at risk.
  • Protect your friends. Get your friends permission before posting something about them or their picture online.

What Can You Do As A Parent?

Be aware of your child’s activities online. Do they have a social networking profile? Who are their friends? Are there people you don’t know? Talk to them about their activities and make sure they are aware of the potential risks they might face.

Some parents may create a profile for themselves in order to be able to be “friends” with their children and monitor their activities. Although this may work children are able to restrict the things parents can see on their profiles. They may also start up a second profile, one for their family and one for their friends.

Links to Social Networks your child may have a profile with:

Social Network Safety Tip Links:

Webcams

Webcams (small video cameras hooked up to a computer) allow users to take picture, record video, have a video chat, or to live stream video. Webcams have become increasingly popular and it is now in fact very difficult to buy a laptop these days without a webcam. Many new smartphones also have a built in camera.

Webcams can be a great way to connect with friends and be creative in making videos and taking pictures. Just as many other things however, they can also be misused. There are some viruses which hack into a persons computer and turn on the webcam without their knowledge. This means that a persons home is being broadcasted to the world without their knowledge. A good way to prevent this from happening is to unplug webcams when not in use or to put a piece of tape or paper over them when one is not using it.

Currently, a common activity is to chat on webcam chat sites. Just like a chat room, people get together to chat but instead of just typing their webcams are activated and they can see and hear each other. Some sites allow for webcam roulette where you are automatically paired with a random person on a webcam. The risk such activities pose can be great.

Predators can have visual interaction with children very easily. Aside from talking with them, they can do inappropriate things such as exposing themselves or asking the child to do inappropriate things.

Children and youth are even sometimes paid in cash (ex. through PayPal accounts) or gifts to engage in sexual activities online via webcam chat rooms. Often this goes on in a group setting with pressure from teens friends. It is important that parents are aware of this potential behaviour and are engaged and aware of the signs to ensure it does not go on.

Parents and children must realize that webcams can be viewed publically and appropriate safety measure should be followed.

Webcam Protective Measures

  • If you do have a webcam place it on the computer that is in an open area in the home.
  • Teach your children to only use the webcam with people they know (long distance relatives or friends).
  • Do not post personal information (pictures, webcam addresses) online.
  • Parents should warn their child to use these same precautions when accessing the internet outside of the home (school, library, friends houses).

Cell Phone Safety

Nowadays, using a cell phone to make calls is only one of the many features they possess. Cell phones can take pictures, record videos, connect to the internet, receive e-mails and images, and send text messages. Newer more advanced phones, often called smartphone’s, allow for users to install applications or apps on their phones which allow users to do almost anything from their phone. From accessing ones Facebook, bank accounts, the weather and even airplane tickets, it can all be done by today’s cell phones.

Because cell phones allow users to do so much today they can also pose potential risks to those same users. Cell phones are essentially a tiny computer with the same power that computers had 5 years ago. Therefore, all the risks and issues for children and youth using computers and the internet apply to cell phones as well. Perhaps the risk is even greater as phones are generally a very personal thing for many, especially teens. This means they are on their person practically 24/7 and generally will lack the supervision that they might have on while using a computer.

Safety Tips Parents Should Go Over For Children With Cell phones:

  • Do not post your cell phone number online.
  • Only give your number to people you trust and know.
  • Do not reply to text messages when the person or number is unknown to you.
  • Never let someone you don’t know use your phone.
  • If your phone is lost and or stolen report it to your network provider immediately.
  • If you feel certain numbers should be blocked from calling your phone, contact your cell phone company (Bell, Telus, Rogers, Fido, ect.) and they can block them for you.

Texting Safely

Text messages may be challenging for some adults to understand due to the short forms and lingo used.

Parents should learn text messaging lingo in order to understand their child’s conversation. This may help in case of an emergency where a text message is the only clue to what may have occurred.

If for some reason you have serious concerns about your child’s text messaging activities you may be able to contact the cellular provider and have the text messaging service cancelled.

Cyber Bullying

In addition to the dangers of predators online, there is also the possibility your child may experience cyber bullying. Cyber bulling is bullying that occurs through the internet or other interactive technologies. Examples include instant messaging, email, social networking, blogs, text messaging, and online games. Victims are embarrassed, harassed, and threatened.

The effects of cyber bullying can be severe; just as with traditional bullying. The impersonal and potentially anonymous element of cyber bullying however can mean that the victimization is greater. A larger number of people can become involved in the bullying very easily through a click of their mouse. Many of the bullies may not even know the victim but just get caught up in the act, potentially not even really aware of the consequences of their actions.

To imagine the impact cyber bullying might have on a child or teen consider the act of writing mean things in a bathroom stall at school about an individual versus texting the same thing to dozens of students who then text it to dozens more, positing the message on facebook, and starting an online group whose sole intention is to put this individual down. Words in a bathroom stall are relatively isolated from the student body, fairly easy to remove, and easy to document. Online bullying however can involve hundreds and even thousands of people in a few hours, is very difficult to remove from all sources, and challenging for parents and authorities to deal with and be aware of.

Just as there have been youth suicides that have been attributed to bullying there have also been such cases related to cyber bulling. It is a serious problem that affects many daily and it is important to be aware of it and to discuss it with your children.

Here are two excellent websites which discuss issues relating to cyber bullying and provide information to help both children and parents deal with it:

If you believe your child or someone you know is being bullied on the internet and offline risks are involved (i.e.: death threats, violence, internet predators) where the perpetrator knows how to reach the victim(s) offline, it is important that you report such cases to the police. Cyber bullying is a crime and can be dealt with under various provisions of the Criminal Code in Canada.

Reporting Suspected Internet Predators

Any attempts made to lure your child into a face to face meeting should be reported to local law enforcement officials immediately.

You must contact the police if you believe that an adult is communicating inappropriately with your child online. Even if you are not completely sure, you should report it to local police anyway. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

If your local law enforcement agency does not take your report seriously, you can contact the www.cyberlawenforcement.org which will reach out to law enforcement officials with you.

You can also report problems to:

Canada’s National Tipline for reporting the online sexual exploitation of children:
www.cybertip.ca
1 866 658 9022

The National Center For Missing and Exploited Children (US) This is one of the world’s best tip lines:
1-800-THE-LOST
www.cybertipline.com

Technology as you know is changing and expanding every day. To keep on top of new Internet issues regarding your children’s safety, please be sure to regularly check our web site for updates of this information as well as any other sources you know of or that we have mentioned.

If you know of any other web sites that may be of interest to our organization and other parents, please feel free to email us the address so we can assess if we can provide a link from our Internet site. You may e-mail us at: vofv@victimsofviolence.on.ca

All you can do as parents is talk to your children about safety issues. You simply cannot be there to hold their hand in everything they do and must give them all of the tools you can and trust that they will make the proper decisions with the information they have. Be honest with your children and answer their questions as best you can. If both you and your children are educated about the internet and appropriate safety precautions that will mean safe use for all.


Feedback about our Child Protection Materials is greatly appreciated.

Please vofv(at)victimsofviolence(dot)on.ca if you have any comments, or to report errors or omissions.

Last modified: October 18, 2016