Last week we held our Smart Parent Cyber Safety event, and learned a lot about how to protect our children from digital dangers, as well as how to encourage them to make better choices when plugged in.
Constable Andrea Cain from the Winnipeg Police Service shared her wisdom and experience from almost two decades on the force, as well as some of her own techniques as a mother and guardian of several children of varying ages.
Here are some of her key takeaway points for you to consider when your child begins to use their own device:
- When your child begins to use their own phone, you are able to go into your service provider (ie: MTS, Rogers) and have copies of all of their notifications of new e-mails, texts etc. sent directly to your device. Constable Cain said that for her family, as long as she is paying for their mobile plan, she will have the ability to monitor her children’s activity. If/when she sees a pattern of online behavior that concerns her, she can address it with her child, making them aware of how to make better choices online.
- Many parents may not be aware that several gaming systems or programs allow your child to chat online. Clash of Clans, Minecraft, Nintendo DS, Xbox, and Talking Angela are some systems, apps and games that allow your child to interact with strangers online. Many parents don’t realize this is a part of the game, as children can swipe the screen away quickly. Connecting with strangers in this type of setting is particularly dangerous, as your child may begin to feel like they ‘know’ the person, because they could have been playing against them and chatting with them for a long time. They begin to build a bond, but may not realize, in some cases, the 14 year-old-boy they think they’re playing and chatting with is actually an adult with intent to harm them.
- Do not allow any devices in your child’s bedroom. Any webcam or computer camera can be hacked and becomes a window into your child’s bedroom. Put something over the camera when not in use. Even if the light is off or it appears to be turned off, a hacker can still gain access. Simple things like a Band-Aid, piece of clothing, or other small item taped over the camera, can protect your child and be easily removed when the camera is needed.
- Be aware of your surroundings when out in a public place. These days everyone seems to be walking around looking at their phone. The trouble is, sometimes they’re actually using the camera. For example: When you are in a change room at a public pool, take a look around before getting undressed. If the person next to you has their locker door open and there is a phone visible, it’s possible you or your children could be taped undressing and your image posted online or used in an attempt to exploit you.
- Reinforce to your children that once something is posted online it is there forever. Many new apps such as SnapChat claim that your photo disappears in seconds. The reality is, that any photo posted is archived somewhere online forever. Additionally, any user viewing it on their computer or smart phone, can potentially take a screenshot of your photo and share it with anyone they want.
- Certain online activities can result in jail time. For example, if a 16 year-old boy is sent a topless photo by his girlfriend and sends it to a friend or shares it online, he could be arrested for distribution of child pornography. A youth can be arrested at age 12 or older.
- If you or your children see or hear about someone being bullied online or whose photo has been shared in a distasteful way, it is very important to contact the police, the child’s family and perhaps most importantly to reach out and check on the child. If the child is alone and dealing with the emotional pressures of online bullying, they are at risk of harming themselves or someone else. If your child begins to close their social media accounts, it is a serious warning sign that something is wrong. If they close accounts or open new accounts under a different name, talk to your child to find out what is happening.
- Know your child’s security settings on their device and social media accounts. Make sure you turn off the ‘location services’ feature on your child’s camera. If this is turned on, then when your child posts a photo, anyone can track that child’s real-time location. If you are unsure of how to control the security settings on your child’s device, you can take it to your service provider for assistance.
- Some apps to be aware of are: Instagram, Twitter, Kik, Vine, SnapChat, Ask.FM, and Yik Yak. The latter three are some of the most dangerous ones out there, and Constable Cain suggests you delete them from your child’s phone if they are using them.
- If you want help removing photos from the Internet, you can use the report/mark as spam button on Facebook or visit needhelpnow.ca for a directory and information about how to go about removing photos. It is very important that you remind your children to make responsible choices when posting things online, because their digital profile will be online forever. Even just one ‘bad’ post can affect future education or employment opportunities and negatively impact their reputation going forward.
***Remind your child that with electronics there should be no expectation of privacy. They should keep a written journal to express themselves, and use their online profiles to connect with others in a positive way.