Today’s story about the Abbotsford teen charged with child luring, extortion, making child pornography and sexual interference, brought several reporters to my office for my views on the situation. Our interviews were brief and to the point, but I would like to more fully express some of my ideas and concerns.
First, with this story and many others, I feel we have a confusion of definition. This incident will be called ‘cyberbullying’ by some. It wasn’t. As the criminal charges that were laid against the Abbotsford teen illustrate, this case involved child luring, extortion, making child pornography and sexual interference. Internationally, between 7% and 79% of children report ‘being cyber-bullied’ because it is a vague term. When youths see this, or other local cases in the media labelled as ‘cyberbullying’ they think, “nothing like this has happened to me” or “cyberbullying is this extreme”. The case in Abbotsford is about cyber abuse. We need to be clear with our youth that while they may experience online drama…regular peer negotiations that don’t need to be reported to adults…when they do experience something of an exploitive, sexual, threatening or emotionally distressing nature they do need to come to us. It’s abuse, it’s illegal and they have the right to protection and safety online. It’s important to be very clear when we label online activities so that our youth and children, in turn, are able to identify exactly what they are experiencing.
Secondly, many youth report that they don’t tell adults about online concerns because they fear losing their technology. This is a tough one for parents but essentially this means that you need to reassure your children that they won’t lose their devices if they tell you about something that frightens, alarms or disturbs them. Just like the strategy of providing your teen with a free ride home, from anywhere, without question or repercussions if they find themselves in a dangerous drug or alcohol situation, has proven effective, so too we need to reassure our children that we will help them resolve situations online instead of simply removing the technology from their lives. As adults, we know we know it is far more important to teach our children their own strategies to deal with cyber abuse and to ensure they will always talk to us about their online experiences.
And finally, parents have a very important role to play in initiating values-based conversations with their children about online culture. Take opportunities at the dinner table or on the ride to school to ask them what they think about trolls, bullies online, sexual images, sexting and gore sites that they may come across. Ask them about their games and keep them talking. You don’t have to understand the game, the app or the operating system for your children to benefit from your life experience and values. Our children are living in a very different world than we did, and this means that adults and caregivers need to be open to learning from and with each other.
If you are an educator or a parent and you want to learn more about the online experiences and challenges your students and children face each day, please check out our ‘Your Life Online‘ series of online safety presentations. If you would like to discuss how SafeOnline can help you, please complete our Contact Form or call 604.615.7899 .