'Don't ever think it can't happen to you': Experts give advice on keeping kids safe online
"Don't ever think it can't happen to you."
That's what Cyber Risk expert David Shipley says is the most important takeaway after the recent RCMP discovery that four children between the ages of eight and 12 shared nude images of themselves online.
According to Shipley, some studies have found that up to 60 per cent of people under 30 have sent intimate images of themselves to someone online.
While they may be sending the images to someone they trust, that may not be enough to keep them safe.
A 2017 study released by the Department of Justice found that almost 25 per cent of children surveyed admitted that they had forwarded an intimate image they had received to others.
But how can parents protect their children, when the internet is such a pervasive part of modern society?
"It's not an effective strategy to simply say, 'Well people shouldn't do it,'" Shipley told CTV Atlantic. "I think for parents it's critical to have these conversations as soon as possible."
Talk to your kids
According to the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, one of most important ways parents can help prevent the exploitation of kids online is by talking to children, and teaching them the importance of online safety.
The Centre has several tips for keeping kids safe online:
1. Regularly ask your kids who they're talking to online
Discuss who your kids are "friends" with online and how they know them, as well as what type of information is safe to reveal in messages, posts, and photos.
2. Make sure your kids can tell the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships
To avoid your kids being sexually exploited online, talk to them about unhealthy relationship and coercive tactics, so they're less likely to tolerate relationships that put them at risk.
3. Talk about the importance of healthy boundaries between adults and teens
Explain that adults shouldn't be actively pursuing friendships with children, or give them any sort of sexual attention. Also stress the importance of coming to you if they have an uncomfortable interaction with an adult online.
4. Discuss ways to get out of uncomfortable situations online
Teach them to make an excuse, don't feel pressured to respond with urgency, stand their ground, or block the person and report them if they're concerned.
5. Establish the importance of asking for help
Identify situations where it's important to ask for help, and work to establish trust and ensure they know your top priority is their safety, even if they've made a mistake.
Also be sure to discuss the potential legal consequences that their online activity could have, as well as familiarize yourself with laws pertaining to victimization, to ensure that you can take proper action if required.
But above all else, listen to your gut – if something seems wrong with your child, trust your instincts and try to talk with them and find out what's wrong.
Limit access to technology
While it may seem like an impossible task in the modern world, experts say that limiting your children's internet access is one of the best ways to help keep them safe.
The prevalence of smartphones and tablets in children's rooms is a "recipe for disaster," Shipley says.
"If it's got a webcam on it, it should be in a public space that you can monitor."
Over time as children grow older and prove that they have an understanding of the potential dangers and risks the internet can pose, you can gradually build that trust.
For parents looking for a little extra help in monitoring their kid's online activity, parental control software and routers may be the solution.
Most computers and several smartphones have parental control setting built into their operating systems, allowing you to filter online content, restrict app usage, and set privacy restrictions.
But external programs and devices like Circle or CleanRouter allow you to go a step further.
Rather than having to set parental controls on each and every device in the house, parental control gadgets control what all other devices are able to do while on the network.
By plugging one of these devices into your router, you can set boundaries by filtering out age-inappropriate content, create time limits or bed times where the internet won't be accessible, and monitor what your kids are doing online.
"I think it's important to explain to children why you're monitoring for this and be transparent about this," Shipley said.
"It's for their safety and protection because we want to build a culture of transparency and accountability inside the home and out of it."
The devices are not technically complex, and can easily be set up and run with minimal effort.
Some more intricate devices also work off internal rechargeable batteries, so kids aren't able to unplug or turn off the devices without the proper credentials.
Shipley says that internet providers should consider adding tools like this to their service packages, to make sure that families can keep their kids safe online.
"Let's make 2019 the year we start getting a handle on this," Shipley said.
"We can't simply treat the computer like a surrogate parent, because it opens a world of bad and a world of good – and [seeing] the difference between those takes growing up."