“Something is not right” Barb was sharing with her friend Jill over coffee, “Jessica is on the computer every night for hours, and when she is not on the computer, she’s on her cell phone.” Jill gave an empathetic groan, “I know what you mean, my daughter is the same.”
“Yeah, but something is different lately, “said Barb with a troubled look on her face, “it’s like she’s a different person. She used to like to hang out with her friends, but now she doesn’t even want to do that. I was checking the cell bill last night and noticed that she’s been getting a lot of calls from a 1- 800 number. She also has money I know I haven’t given her.”
“What do you think is going on?” asked Jill.
“I don’t know,” replied Barb, “if I even come close to the computer when she’s on it, she turns off the screen and she never lets her phone out of her sight. I try to talking to her, but she always seems to be mad at me. If I push the issue, she just gets angry and goes straight to her room. I’m really worried about her and I don’t know what to do.”
Barb has reason to be concerned. Jessica, who was previously a happy and socially involved teen, has become angry and has disconnected herself from her family and friends. Jessica’s unrestricted use of the internet may have a lot to do with this. While use of social media is typical and generally harmless for most teens, something more sinister may be occurring. Many of the behaviours Jessica exhibits are consistent with those of children who are experiencing “online child exploitation”. Following is a list of warning signs of potential child exploitation as well as a list of strategies to help keep your child safe when online.
• You find pornography on the computer
• Your child gets phone calls from men you don’t know
• Your child makes long distance calls to numbers you don’t recognize
• Your child receives mail, gifts or packages from someone you don’t know
• Your child quickly turns off the monitor or changes the screen when you enter the room
• Your child becomes withdrawn from the family
• Your child is using an online account belonging to someone else
STRATEGIES TO PROMOTE ONLINE SAFETY:
• Set clear time limits on the use of electronics and foster face-to-face social interactions and activities
• Talk openly with your child about online predators and the manner in which they lure children
• Frequently review what is on your child’s computer
• Monitor your child’s access to all forms of live electronic communication
• Spend time with your child online
• Keep the computer in a common room with the monitor facing out into the room where it can be seen easily.
• Use parental controls to restrict access to inappropriate sites
• Maintain up-to-date security software and consider use of family friendly applications which monitor, restrict and report inappropriate computer use
• Know the apps being used by your kids and ensure they are downloaded from reputable app stores
• Closely monitor use of chat rooms
• Maintain access to your child’s on-line account
• Randomly check email
• Find out what safeguards are used at school and other places where your child has internet access
• Instruct your child as to what is and is not appropriate to share online (particularly personal information and photos).
• Teach your child to stay respectful and polite when communicating online
• Be aware of and know how to change settings on devices which provide your location
• Warn your child about the danger of in-person meetings with people met on-line
• Know how to locate and wipe cell phones which are lost or stolen
• Lock phones and other mobile devices with a pin code, password or fingerprint setting
While the above listed warning signs and strategies will help to promote greater awareness and safety for our children who access the internet, perhaps the most import thing we can do as parents is to safeguard our relationship by spending time with them.