Many children are accessing the Internet using mobile devices and computers, and parents often don’t know what sites they’re visiting or with whom their kids are interacting.
The way we parent our children has to evolve along with technology, says author Charlene Doak-Gebauer. That means including digital supervision and guidance as part of traditional parenting.
“The Internet and digital devices are light years ahead of parenting, and it’s time parents caught up,” she said.
Doak-Gebauer explains her theory of digital supervision in her book Digital Sexual Victims: True Cases (published by Tellwell). She wrote the book to protect children and families from becoming victims of child pornography after her niece was targeted by neighbours when she was only four-years-old.
Her life tragically ended at 22-years-old when she was killed by a drunk driver.
Doak-Gebauer started a charity called Child Pornography Hurts in memory of her niece. The non-profit helps victims of child pornography avoid further victimization and fights to end child pornography.
After two years of research talking with victims, counsellors and police services, she wrote a book explaining how sexual predators gain the trust of their victims, how parents can supervise their kids’ online activity and how to talk with your children about inappropriate behaviour.
“Children are being targeted daily on online gaming sites when they are as young as four or five. Grooming is the predator’s way of developing trust with the child and what a lot of parents don’t realize is when they leave their children on these games, the child is targeted with the first step of grooming by taking them to a triple X pornographic site,” she said.
The first advice she has for parents is to learn how their children are communicating and find out who is online with them. If they have an extra device in the home, they should be playing games online with their children.
Doak-Gebauer also recommends using a key logger, which is a type of spy software that collects information about how the child is using the Internet.
She says parents sometimes worry about infringing on their child’s privacy.
“I tell them, what about the extreme trauma of your child when they’ve been victimized? And this is where parents need to understand that their parenting must include digital supervision,” she said.
“Parents wouldn’t give their child the keys to the car when they’re eight-years-old, so why should they give them a device to navigate the online world unsupervised?”
The number of child pornography incidents in Canada rose by about 400 incidents from 2014 to 2015, according to Statistics Canada. In 2015, there were 4,300 incidents compared to 3,900 the year before. Part of the increase is due to an initiative by the British Columbia Integrated Child Exploitation Unit which tracked IP addresses possessing or sharing child pornography.
“Frankly, even as a police officer who investigates this type of crime, the extent of the problem is disturbing,” said Inspector Ed Boettcher, Officer in Charge of B.C. RCMP Communications in a news release in 2015.
Doak-Gebauer says children across the board are vulnerable, especially in developed countries where youth have greater online access.
Her advocacy efforts include speaking at conferences around the world about her theory of digital supervision.
“Every time I speak, it becomes extremely quiet, because it develops an awareness of a crime that people don’t realize is out there,” she said.
The Ontario-based author presented her theory to Members of Parliament last summer. She also met with Peace River MP Arnold Viersen to discuss M-47, a motion that would require the Standing Committee on Health to conduct a study on violent pornography. The last major federal study on the impact of pornography was in 1985.
Doak-Gebauer also spoke at a conference in Santa Barbara, California last November and is speaking at the Women’s Economic Forum on January 27th in The Hague, Netherlands.
To her surprise, they placed her in the counter-terrorism panel rather than the youth and social media panel. Conference organizers see her theory of digital supervision also as a good way to detect radicalization within the home.
“It’s your device and your Internet connection. You need to know what’s going on with your equipment at home.”
Her book has been nominated for an International Award for Excellence by the Delta Kappa Gamma Society. She will find out the result in April.
She hopes parents around the world will practice digital supervision to protect their children from sexual exploitation.
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