RNC Constable Kevin Foley hosted a presentation on the topic of recognizing electronic and computer threats to an audience of parents where he provided tips on how to keep kids safe from cyberbullying at Beaconsfield Junior High School in St. John's Tuesday. — Photo by Rhonda Hayward/The Telegram
More than half of young people say they do things online they don't want their parents to know about, according to statistics provided by RNC community services officer Const. Kevin Foley.
Foley was at Beaconsfield Junior High School in St. John's Tuesday night to give a presentation to a group of about 40 parents on web safety and risks for kids.
There was head-shaking, frowning and sighs as Foley read some statistics about youth Internet usage.
"It really opened our eyes to different tragedies that can happen," said Paula Corcoran, who has a son in Grade 8. "When I was growing up it was, 'Be careful out on the streets,' whereas now you're safer out on the streets than you are on the computer."
According to Foley and the numbers gathered by the RNC for his presentation, about 15 per cent of young people have received a "sext" message - text messages that include sexually explicit comments and pictures. Fourteen per cent meet in person with people they had only known online, they say.
"Very scary," one parent whispered as the stats were read.
Throughout the presentation, Foley warned parents about the creation of an "electronic world," where kids are not being monitored and parents don't always know what their child is doing.
There are numerous ways parents can track and control the Internet usage of their children - checking Internet history, blocking specific websites, moving computers out of bedrooms, installing parental controls or even timers that will shut off Internet access at a set time. But most importantly, Foley said, parents and children should be clear about their expectations and rules.
"I know that a young person who has a frank conversation with an adult who they really trust, and that adult is talking to them about things that they expect - that young person is safer," Foley said.
Conversations are even more important, Foley said, because children often know more about technology and computers than adults - as another parent in the crowd pointed out.
Corcoran agreed that her children were more tech-savvy than she is.
"Certainly, the level of education that the children have over the parents is a little bit unsettling, for sure," she said.
Foley said that while more than half of kids do things that they don't want their parents to know about, that doesn't mean it is necessarily bad. Perhaps, he said, children are just embarrassed or shy.
The Internet is a great tool for learning and education, Foley insists, and one that's here to stay. Still, he said the risks are real. Foley said the safe reputation of the province cannot apply to the Internet.
"Our young people have the same access to the Internet as young people right across North America - right across the world," he said. "Is it all bad? Absolutely not, but our objective this evening is to point out our concerns so that parents can be aware and have the necessary conversations."
The slideshow closed with a reminder - you are still the parent.
In the past year, there have been at least three people charged in the province for offenses involving Internet child-luring.