By Emma Elshaw
The world is moving online. Due to COVID-19 and the government’s mandates that everyone stay home as much as possible, many people are spending more time online. Because of the internet, many of us are able to connect with our family and friends in this time of social distancing; however, predators are also going online.
As parents, it is our job to keep our kids safe, both online and offline. Just as we might keep our kids from talking to strangers or being alone with an unknown adult, we also need to watch our kids as they spend time online. We have an obligation to ensure they are aware of the potential dangers that exist online, and to engage our kids in dialogue about safe online use. And these conversations need to be ongoing.
Talk to your kids. Educate them about being wise and knowing where to draw the line. Help them to know how to counteract pressure and manipulation from others online. No matter what topic you are addressing in any particular conversation, make sure it is a conversation - that it’s not just you doing the talking, but that you’re listening to your child, too. Finally, make sure they know that you are with them and for them, and that they can come to you with anything, no matter what it is.
When your child or teen does come to ask questions, give them the attention, no matter what the topic, and no matter when or where they ask it. Make sure that whatever work or task you’re doing doesn’t take priority over your child, especially when they come with vulnerable curiosity. If you’re out in public, it might be appropriate to emphasize that you are glad they are asking questions, and that you’d be happy to answer them once you are at home or in a more private setting.
If your child comes to you about something they got from someone online, answer their questions, but be sure to address the issue at hand and report if necessary. Be aware of the red flags, like talking to strangers, taking and/or posting nude photos, and sexting. Remember not to pass judgment or be quick to reprimand them. Everyone makes mistakes – kids and adults alike. Offer empathy and grace. Take this as an opportunity to have deeper conversations with your kid or teen about online safety.
Staying Safe@Home requires that we create an atmosphere of open communication in order to have deeper conversations. Your child or teen needs to feel safe in order to feel comfortable opening up. They need to know that they are always welcome to come to you and ask questions, no matter how big or small, easy or difficult, embarrassing or not. They need to know that they can talk to you about anything, without fear of judgment or disapproval. And this kind of open space doesn’t just happen – it needs to be created. When you have ongoing conversations with your kids, and when these conversations are positive and affirming, free of judgment, and display grace and empathy, you will slowly be creating an open space for your kid or teen.
Many of us would dive in front of a speeding vehicle if it meant saving our kids from danger. As parents, we need to dive in front of their devices to save them from lurking online predators. Having open conversations with your kids is key, and so is engaging with your kids. Check back next week for our final installment of the series where we will present some ideas of how to engage with your kids and teens online and offline.
To learn more about online safety, please visit https://www.cybertip.ca/app/en/internet_safety
To report sexual exploitation, please visit https://www.cybertip.ca/app/en/report