This past Tuesday was Safer Internet Day, and the RCMP were encouraging parents to check on their children's internet activity more often.
Corporal Gord Olsen works with the Manitoba RCMP’s Internet Child Exploitation Unit, otherwise known as ICE. He notes their focus this year is self-exploitation.
“What we're seeing right now, a big uptick in our investigations are elementary school kids actually that are getting caught up in taking nude videos of themselves and then trying to upload them to YouTube to TikTok or to some of the other social media platforms.”
Olsen says he has been working in this field for 14 years and one of the issues is that they are seeing kids get access to devices younger and younger.
“For me, the biggest reminder that I like to get out there is social media platforms, the big ones that the kids are using right now, Snapchat, Instagram, TikTok, they are all 13-plus. Your child must be 13 or 14 before they should start using them. That's a huge one, because we see a lot of kids younger than that starting their social media careers, if you will, when they're 9 and 10 years old.”
Though it’s not possible to monitor your child’s online presence 24/7, Olsen also encourages parents to keep an eye on their internet activity.
“We encourage parents and guardians to talk to their children about online safety and to be vigilant of unsolicited friend requests.” He adds “safe online habits can go a long way to protecting kids from exploitation, but parent awareness is also key”.
Recently, the ICE unit has been receiving a higher-than-average number of calls from social media applications reporting these instances of self-exploitation and many of them are linked to their parents' social media accounts and devices.
In 2022, the ICE unit received 242 reports from Social Media Applications. For 2023, the number of reports increased to 652.
The following tips can help ensure your children have a safer experience online;
A reminder that social media applications are recommended 13+.
Know all of your child’s account usernames and passwords.
Be aware of secondary/backup accounts often referred to as “Spam” accounts.
Check your child’s devices regularly and often, check on what they “Google” and watch on YouTube and who they communicate with on social media.
Talk to them about appropriate online etiquette (eg. bullying, harassment, threats, sexting and grooming).
Free monitoring/parental control applications for electronic devices exist and are a great place to start when monitoring a child’s online activity.