The OPP say that when it comes to youth using the internet, danger is just one click away. Police are stressing that parents should take time to better understand what their child is doing on the internet, to help mitigate any online risks.

“The internet can be a great thing, but on the other hand, it can cause so many problems – especially for youth,” said Tina Chalk, an Inspector with the OPP’s Counter Exploitation and Missing Persons section.

“When you teach a 16-year-old to drive, we give them lessons, we teach them ourselves, we pay someone to teach them. But when you hand a 4-year-old an iPad, we don’t do that – but the dangers are so extreme.”

The safety tips come following a province-wide investigation into child exploitation over the internet – that in only one month – resulted in over 550 charges against over 120 Ontario residents. The charges include two men from northwestern Ontario.

Chalk says that exploitation can exist in a luring type of offence, where someone pretends to be someone else at a potentially alternate age to start a “grooming” process, which can typically happen on gaming websites or social media.

Chalk adds that the best way for parents to ensure their child’s safety on the internet is supervision and self-knowledge. She says that parents are urged to teach themselves about social media privacy settings, how to recognize dangerous websites, and to supervise their child’s internet usage whenever possible.

“Parents need to try to mitigate the risk. They need to really understand the internet, and talk the same language as their kids.”

The Canadian Centre for Child Protection can provide alerts for parents if their child is using a website that is known to be dangerous for youth. Chalk says that some websites can have people attempting to approach youth within minutes.

“Know who your friends are. You should know your friends on the internet like you know your friends in real life. You have to be careful who you allow into your online life, because you can be whoever you want to be over the internet. There is a difference between internet relationships and real life. Do not meld those together, they are not the same. ”

Chalk adds that exploitation of youth on the internet can lead to human trafficking, through luring the youth over the internet.

Other safety tips for parents include introducing their children to safe versions of the websites and social media that the youth already use. These youth-friendly versions can restrict dangerous or explicit content.

Residents are also urged to cover and unplug any web-cams when not in use, to protect any and all personal information, and to remember that people can record and capture any live-streaming over the internet.

If parents find that their youth is visiting or engaging in dangerous or concerning internet behaviour, they are asked to call the police. Families can also contact the Canadian Centre for Child Protection - and they can recommend safety tips and recommend if you should contact police. An online reporting system can also be found at cybertips.ca

When it comes to child sexual assault, Chalks adds that “stranger danger” is important and relevant, but quite often, those who commit sexual assault to children are people that the child knows.

“It’s not always the person who is going to jump out of the bush at you. It’s often people that know you, they’re in your life, and youth need to know what is appropriate and what is not. If something makes you uncomfortable, there’s probably a reason for it. If they’re suspicious, report it. It might be nothing, but it might be a dangerous situation. That’s for us to figure out.”

Chalk also says that the sharing of intimate photos by youth can lead to exploitation through fear, something that she says the OPP deals with every day across the province.

“Youth need to understand what happens when you share those images and what can happen afterwards. There might be a breakup, and the next thing you know, it could be shared throughout the school. That can be absolutely devastating.”

To combat internet exploitation, the OPP is supporting the Kids in the Know program – an internet safety education program in Ontario schools. The program aims to build confidence in youth, how to recognize red flags, good internet habits, and how to recognize “grooming”.

Another program - Commit to Kids – aims to help youth understand a normal interaction between an youth and someone they know. The program is one of many through the Canadian Centre for Child Protection.

The Canadian Centre for Child Protection offered the following safety tips and reccomendations for parents:

- Be involved with your child’s life. Attend their activities and pay attention to interactions between adults and the children.

- Accompany you child to public areas and to extracurricular activities

- Communicate wth your child and create opportunities for them to share their feelings and opinions with you

- Pay attention to changes in your child’s behaviour – as it can be a sign that your child is in distress.

- Model appropriate boundaries between adults and children.

- Pay attention and respond to interactions between children and adults. If you’re uncomfortable, get involved.

- Be emotionally available for your child.

For more information:
Two local men charged in provincial child exploitation investigation

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