Embracing technology safely

Bonnie Belec
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Authorities tell parents and children to learn about dangers of the Internet

Third in a three-part series

If children are sexually exploited on the Internet by an online predator, the last thing parents should do is blame them, says an educator with the Canadian Centre for Child Protection.

Law enforcement officials and the Canadian Centre for Child Protection implore parents to get involved with their children’s online activities. While the Internet is filled with knowledge, it can also be a dangerous place for them.

Instead, they should embrace the technology and ask their children what they are doing in order to try to protect them from the dangers that lurk inside a public place where there are no boundaries and where no door is completely locked, Noni Classen said in a recent interview.

“Children don’t have the experience, or brain development, to reflect on the potential implications or intentions of the other person luring them on the Internet,” she said.

“They are only looking at it from their own egocentric lens of, ‘What is going to happen to me?’ At that age their brains are wired for social interaction and bonding, and their need for acceptance and belonging is going to drive their needs,” said Classen.

The director of education for the centre told The Telegram, as part of a three-part series on Internet luring, once children are engaged by a sexual predator, some don’t know how to release the grip and they become manipulated.

She said they need to be told what has happened to them is understandable and not be punished for it.

“If that happens they won’t come forward and that is the last thing we want. In order to catch these people, we need children to tell their parents. It needs to be reported,” said Classen, adding the tip line run by the centre, Cybertip.ca, has more than 100,000 reports to date.

Depending on their age, children often don’t know what they’re doing is wrong, said Classen.  

“It is so easy for that to happen. It’s not their fault, but they feel guilty about it. There needs to be open communication, especially as it relates to dealing with all of this technology. Even if they have done something, it’s all about learning,” she said from her Winnipeg office.

The website the centre operates, protectchildren.ca, is loaded with useful information about the Internet specifically designed for children, parents and educators. It offers guidance on how to address a range of issues, such as how parents can protect teens online, and cartoons and games aimed at teaching personal safety to children.

Internet luring has been a criminal offence in Canada since 2002 and involves communicating with children under the age of 18.

While catching online predators is one of the main roles of the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit—Newfoundland and Labrador (CFSEU-NL) Internet child exploitation (ICE) unit, prevention and awareness are messages often spread by its members.

Formed during the spring of 2013, the unit is seeing an increase in Internet luring cases, and has 21 investigations underway, with several of them before the courts at various stages of prosecution.

RNC Staff Sgt. Joe Gullage, RCMP Sgt. Darin MacDonald and RNC Const. Terry Follett are based out of the St. John’s office. During a recent interview with the three seasoned officers, their message is clear — ask your children what they are doing, and if you don’t know how to access social media such as Facebook, chat rooms and online gaming, tell your children to teach you.

“If you don’t know what you’re children are doing, ask them,” says MacDonald.

“If you dont’ know how to use a computer, ask them to show you,” he said.

 Gullage said parents and educators need to tell children they are putting themselves in danger by posting photos and personal information on Facebook and other forms of social media.

“Engage security protocols. Put on privacy settings. Be careful who is trying to befriend you,” said the 37-year police veteran.

They said parents, family and educators need to teach themselves and be aware of the risks that can be associated with using the Internet.

“It’s a breeding ground for child predators and we need everybody on the same page, using the same language,” said Follett.

“If a stranger came up to a girl on the street and asked where she lived and how old she is, they’d run away, but if they’re on the Internet and a stranger asks, they tell them everything, which is not the right thing to do. So you need to know what they are posting,” said MacDonald.

Classen says children accessing the Internet and technological devices are becoming younger, and it is essential to their safety that parents know where and what they are doing.

As the education director for the child protection centre, Classen tells parents not to worry about starting young with their children and talking to them about personal safety and exploitation on the Internet.

Following a survey in 2010 — by the Entertainment Software Association of Canada — it was revealed 77 per cent of Canadian children between the ages of six and 17 play online games, but only five per cent of parents believed their kids were accessing online games.

As a result, the centre launched zoeandmolly.ca, which is a website that features a variety of resources and activities designed to help teach kids how to stay safe when playing online games.

“We need to start in grades 3 and 4, to teach them what healthy friendships and relationships are,” said Classen.

“They need to know the boundaries, and (we must) teach them to trust their instincts. That if someone asks them to do something weird, that it is not OK and to tell someone. We all need to have that conversation,” she said.

bbelec@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit—Newfoundland and Labrador, CFSEU-NL, RCMP Entertainment Software Association of Canada

Geographic location: Winnipeg, Canada

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