This week, I read a newspaper report that a sixteen-year-old boy was charged for online extortion or “sextortion”. He was arrested for extortion, child pornography and luring. He had contacted a teenage girl online, befriended her, and then pressured her into sending him a nude photo of herself. When he received it, he threatened to expose her to friends and family if she didn’t continue sending him more photos.
The director of Cybertip.ca, Signy Arnason, said parents need to use such real-life examples to discuss the risks of the online world with their children. The risks are very real, and vulnerable children are being enticed into making contact with strangers who charm them online. When a young person is told she is special and attractive, especially if she has self-esteem problems, she begins to believe that she is in a relationship and that the person truly cares for her. She wants to please him and is afraid of losing him so she gives in to his demands. Over time, photos she sends become more and more explicit.
There are two issues here:
- Children need to feel valued and loved by their parents so that they don’t need to seek attention from strangers. Parents need to focus on the positive attributes of their kids, and tell them they’re appreciated. Often, teens are left alone with their phones because they’re unresponsive and immersed in texting and social media. Parents must break through, start a conversation, ask a question or do anything to get their child’s attention. Even if a child is pulling away from a hug, a parent should persist in giving one. Kids may object, but will know that the parent cares. Communication is crucial and will only happen when there’s a relationship of trust between parent and child. Consistency is crucial, and kids need to be constantly encouraged and shown that they are valued.
2.There are many subjects that should be covered in discussions between parents and kids. An important one is the danger of online luring and blackmail. Kids need to learn that they must not give out any identifying information and must not communicate with strangers whatsoever. If someone gains access to their email or social media account, and begins to make them feel uncomfortable, they need to tell an adult what is happening. They must block the person from all their accounts and deactivate any accounts used to communicate with the individual. Above all, they shouldn’t comply with any demands for information or photographs or give in to any threats. As well, both boys and girls need to be taught to use the internet with kindness and treat others with the respect they would like for themselves.
Other discussions needed between parents and kids are the use of drugs and alcohol, sexual involvement, and safe driving, among many. Kids need to hear that they will be confronted with choices and to understand the implications of those choices. It’s the parents’ job to generate discussions in a patient and reasonable manner, avoiding criticism and inviting questions and opinions.
When children have been taught about consequences and danger, they’re prepared for circumstances that may arise. Just as children are taught how to cross a street when they are young, they need to be taught how to navigate the hazards of later years. Parents must take the role of teacher to equip them with the information needed to be ready for challenges they’ll meet.
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