With more kids being directed online to fulfill their social connections, it’s equally as important for parents to remain in the know about their digital footprint.

That’s according to the Canadian Centre for Child Protection.

Manager of Training and Education Karyn Kibsey spoke to MyPGNow.com.

“Since COVID-19, we have seen an 88% increase in reports regarding child exploitation online. So this could be children sending or being sent sexual images or videos by adults.”

“In many cases, we see kids who are being approached looking more at that 8-12 age group potentially being approached in the platforms they are using so that could be online games or social media apps that they might be on where an adult starts to communicate with them and quickly sexualizes that conversation.”

In some cases, Kibsey mentioned this can make the approach child feel weird or uncomfortable and can quickly escalate from there.

“But they might not interpret that it’s for a sexual purpose and so this could be an adult moving the conversation from a gaming platform to a more private chat line. They may ask them sexualized questions like if they have a boyfriend or girlfriend or if they wear a bra.”

The child protection centre has also uncovered another disturbing trend where more adults are developing an online relationship with teens asking them to live stream via webcam.

“And many youths wouldn’t know that something that is being done on Livestream can actually be captured and recorded. What we are finding is that these individuals are getting those teens to go onto live streams and potentially undress and engage in a sex act and then recording that content and then screenshotting it to their friend’s list.”

“They then threaten them in a way of sextortion and that is threatening to release those images or videos of them to that friend’s list or family if they don’t create more content.”

“It’s really easy to see how kids can get over their heads when they think they are dealing with someone they either have a connection or relationship with,” added Kibsey.

Kibsey stated while the conversation has always been important, however, framing such a discussion with kids or teenagers should be viewed through the lens of content.

“Being aware of the fact that kids can have exposure to harmful material online and contact, so being aware of who kids are connecting with online and the conduct – what our kids are doing online and how that impacts their interaction with others.”

Here are some tips to help parents keep their kids safe online:

  • Continuously check that privacy settings are on for all apps;
  • Turn off location services to minimize data collection;
  • Have daily conversations about online activities from a curiosity perspective;
  • Let children know that if they need support they can ask a safe and trusted adult and ask them to name their trusted adults;
  • Discuss age-appropriate apps, games, and entertainment, as well as how to secure passwords;
  • Watch for behavior changes such as if they’re upset or secretive with online activities;
  • Establish rules on how and where devices can be used and where they should be left overnight for charging;
  • Get familiar with parental controls on all devices, apps including YouTube/Netflix.

Kibsey added it’s crucial for parents to not deal with this in a fear-based approach, hinting that you guardians should want their kids to speak to them about child sexual exploitation.

“As parents, we understand that our kids will make mistakes online with technology and parents are there to support them. Kids are so worried about getting in trouble for something that they have done online or maybe sharing something that in retrospect, they should not have shared.”

“We don’t want that fear to become the barrier when it comes seeking support from their parents.”