THE BLOG

Internet Safety Begins at Home

10/07/2013 01:02 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

Remember the phrase "charity begins at home?" Well there's a 21st century equivalent: "Online safety begins at home."

Our kids are logging on and uploading files at a rapid pace. They're Instagramming, Facebooking, Tweeting and sharing with the aplomb of a worldly traveler, except these travels are through the ether. Not your kid? Don't be too sure. There are age restrictions outlined in most social media channels; for the most part, you have to be 13 years old to use these networks.

Unfortunately, "rules are made to be broken" is the philosophy of many kids, and children as young as eight or nine are lying about their ages and establishing their own social media accounts. Parents have a right to be alarmed. We've all heard the tragic results of cyberbullying that were facilitated by the speed of social media. We've all seen pictures and videos of vulnerable kids online that have made us uncomfortable to say the least. We've all wondered about the appropriateness of that teenager's tweet, or the apparent disregard for modesty displayed by that tween who's uploading images online with rapid speed and aplomb.

It's a brave new world in which we're living and digital technology has upped the ante in the parenting realm. As parents of younger children as well as tweens and adolescents, we have to take the digital world seriously. Our children's safety is at stake.

In a 2011 study commissioned by the Associated Press in partnership with MTV, 56 per cent of those aged 14-24 reported that they had experienced abuse through social and digital media. One can only assume that with the more widespread use of these online tools the numbers are the same if not higher in 2013.

As a parent, I know that I'm not alone, longing for the days where the issue of whether or not to let your child Google information for a class project was not even a topic of consideration. Similarly, kids as young as elementary school age have the online world at their fingertips in the smart phones that have been provided to them by their parents. Is it any wonder then that controlling their actions is becoming an increasingly more difficult task?

Online safety truly begins at home for it is we as parents who set the foundation and standards by which our children will act -- or not act -- in their online lives. It is us as mothers and fathers who will navigate digital the waters and set the groundwork for current and future behaviours that are acted out in cyberspace. The digital footprint that each of our children will have can be traced back to how well we do in teaching them how to use the Internet safely, without repercussions or regrets.

It is for these and many more reasons that I've actively involved myself with my children's online activity and use of the Internet. As well, I'm always on the lookout for the best resources in this field that can address the questions and challenges that we as parents face as we raise our kids in this digital age. Following are some great starting points for parents who are looking to become more actively involved in what their kids are doing digitally:

1) The RCMP -- Internet Safety Resources -- The site provides comprehensive information about general Internet safety, cyberbullying, child luring online, social networking and security as well as many other related topics. A good starting point for parents looking for some of the pressing issues in this area.

2) Government of Canada -- Internet Safety Guide -- Site provides topics of discussion and interest including Social Media, Online Privacy and Security and Online "Netiquette." A good starting point for basics and a gateway to more involved discussions with your kids.

3) Media Smarts -- Online Resource For Parents -- This site provides a variety of information for parents on digital and media literacy as it relates to kids. The site includes e-tutorials and educational games among other resources. Affiliated with Media Literacy Week.

4) Telus WISE -- Internet and Smartphone Safety and Security - A Canada-wide program in partnership with the Canadian Centre for Child Protection. Both an online resource and comprehensive approach to teaching parents, educators and anyone who wants to know how to keep children safe when using the Internet or smartphone. The program is different from others in that it takes a comprehensive approach to teaching, with one-on-one and group sessions available for individuals, businesses and educators. Partners include Media Smarts and Bullying.org