Parents learn about keeping youth safe while navigating social media –

There’s a lot to learn about keeping youth safe online, something parents quickly learned on Nov. 30 during an information session with RCMP, Youth Justice Services, and the Student Well-being Team at Hernewood Intermediate School.
Starting things off, Constable Amy Handrahan of the West Prince Detachment asked the roughly dozen parents in attendance to raise their hand if they recognized any of the common apps used by youth. These apps were Bigo Live, Tiktok, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, Tor, Monkey, SnapChat, Calculator Vault, and Twitter.
Cst Handrahan brought specific attention to apps like Calculator Vault and Tor.
“Kids will download (Calculator Vault), and you put in a special code, and it opens up a special section where they can hide photographs, pictures, apps that they don’t want mom and dad to know about,” she explained. “So if you see that calculator, or any other similar calculator app ask your kids, because every phone comes with a calculator, so why do they need an extra one?”
Tor is the app she worries most about, because it’s used to access what’s known as the dark web. The dark web is a subset of the deep web that’s intentionally hidden, requiring specific software, configurations, or authorization like Tor to access, and is where users can buy illicit guns, drugs, and other illegal/unsavory items.
She said youth today are doing great things on the Internet, like gaining knowledge, educating themselves, exploring their identity, and learning about their place in the world, but they’re also dealing with the bad. Things like popularity contests, hate pages, throwing shade at others online, threats, harassment, bullying, and a form of blackmail known as sextortion.
“What happens is someone threatens to send a sexual image or video of you to other people, if you don’t pay them or provide more sexual content,” explained Cst Handrahan. “Typically what’s asked for of females is nude photos, while males are asked for money.”
She explained the four steps of grooming a child, all of which will happen within the first 30 minutes of the groomer initiating conversation. The first step is gaining the particulars of the youth, like their age, with the second step being where things begin to turn sexual, and they’ll ask the youth for descriptions about themselves and what they like, and will then ask them to switch to a different platform like Bigo Live, where they’ll ask for intimate photos. The youth might say no at first, but the groomer will keep up the pressure until they comply. Once that’s done, the demand for more increases and the threats of sending the images to everyone the youth knows will begin.
While it’s easy to think the people who do these things to youth are strangers, Cst Handrahan said more often than not the perpetrator is someone the youth already knows.
Parents learned about what happens if something like this happens, the student well-being team helped them understand why it happens and how the mental health of youth has been impacted by social media.
“When we think of social media and mental health, this is a really relatively new thing in our world,” said Lindsay Lidstone, a Registered Nurse with the team. “This wasn’t around whenever we were teenagers. Over time, there’s more and more research that’s getting us the connection to social media, gaming and mental health, but we’re still always learning all the time, even the people that are doing the research.”
One thing brought up during the session was how students not being asked for intimate photos were being affected just as much as the ones who are.
“I have actually had a conversation (with my daughter) not long ago about similar pictures that were asked and sent,” said Jennifer Campbell, one of the parents in attendance. “One of the other girls had actually referred to the group of girls that sent the picture as the popular girls. That’s what she thought.”
During the session, both Cst Handrahan and the student well-being team offered resources to help both youth and parents, including the Canadian Center for Child Protection,, Kids Help Phone. If a youth has sent a photo, White Hatter is also a good source to speak with.
One thing Cst Handrahan wanted parents to understand if they learn their child has sent intimate photos or videos is they shouldn’t panic, shouldn’t overreact, and should stop all communication with the person who received the image or video. Most importantly, they shouldn’t delete the material before contacting police.
“Don’t delete anything, screen capture if you can, and write a detailed statement, everything that took place,” she explained. “Write down what happened, which helps you gather your thoughts, or the kids thought when they come in to talk to us, and don’t ask your kids questions about it. You have to be a train interviewer to talk to kids if you want something to go to court. There’s only a few of us trained to take statements from youth. We’re trained to ask specific questions, and they can’t be what’s referred to as a leading question. Sometimes you may get a call and they may say ‘We don’t have someone today that can take the statement,’ and that’s why.”
When it comes to keeping youth safe, Cst Handrahan urged parents to remember that they are their child’s parent, not their best friend, and should help encourage good online behaviour and positive digital literacy.
“Explain what the stakes are for different actions,” she said. “Remind them technology is a privilege. Learn about technology, social platforms, and games, talk to children about healthy human sexuality, pornography, sexualization, and let the kids know you love them no matter what. What that does is they feel more willing to come and talk to you. So if they’ve sent that picture, they’re more apt to come and tell you rather than hide behind the closed door.”
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