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  • Writer's pictureJessica Coomber

Do you know what your children are Googling?


Do you know what your children are Googling?

Readers of a certain age may recall the nightly television announcement: “It’s 10 p.m. Do you know where your children are?” For those who aren’t familiar, it was a reminder to parents to make sure their brood was tucked in and safe from the nighttime dangers lurking outside. Now, the question is "Do you know what your children are Googling?"

 

Times sure have changed. Today, the concept of unscripted, relatively unsupervised play seems old-fashioned, even foreign. Parenting has long since shifted toward organized sports and activities and home-based play, as a way to ensure that children are protected from harm.

 

There have been unintended consequences. Canada earned a dismal “D” grade on the 2022 ParticipACTION Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Youth, finding that only 28% of our children and youth are meeting the physical activity levels recommended by the Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines for Children and Youth.

 

Much of that sedentary time is spent on screen-based activity. Think tanks and bloggers often reference a 2010 Kaiser Family Foundation study reporting that 8 to 18-year-olds spend an average of more than 7 ½ hours a day, seven days a week, on their devices. By contrast, the Canadian 24-hour movement guidelines recommend that children spend no more than 2 hours per day in recreational screen time. And with 94.3% of Canada’s population having internet access, it is easier than ever to communicate with the outside world from the comfort of our homes.

 

Unfortunately, the world has not become safer for children as a result. A recent episode of the Statistics Canada (StatCan) podcast Eh Sayers titled, “It’s 8 pm…Do You Know What Your Kids Are Googling?” took aim at the impact of children having such high levels of access to the internet. Eh Sayers host Tegan Bridge and StatCan analyst Rachel Tsitomeneas broke down some of the latest data about kids roaming the internet freely.

 

For example, Tsitomeneas reported that, “more than 8 in 10 Canadians who were age 15 to 24 saw information online in the year prior to the survey that they suspected to be false, which is considerably higher than the national average of 70%.” She goes on to explain that misinformation can range from sharing the wrong date for a party to intentionally misstating facts.

 

The podcast also covered content of an aggressive nature, which is likely to incite hate or violence. Tegan pointed out that “young Canadians are more likely than any other age group to see this kind of content online: 71% compared to the national average of 49%.”

 

All of this adds up to youth being at a higher risk of exposure to bullying behavior, and that youth are perpetrators as well as victims of online hate.

 

In a separate release, StatCan reported that “more than 7 in 10 young people have been exposed to online hate and violence,” and that “nearly one-quarter of victims of cyber-related hate crimes are youth aged 12 to 17.” The release also reported that cyber-related hate crimes for all age groups more than doubled from 92 in 2018 to 219 in 2022. Of these, 82% were violent in nature.

 

Even without the data, most parents are aware that unsupervised access to the internet poses risks. Addressing those risks constructively and effectively is problematic and overwhelming. For example, how can you be sure your child is spending their computer time researching a topic for a homework assignment, rather than surfing sites that are not appropriate for them? Are they using their phones to trade funny videos with friends, or are they sharing hateful information about a classmate or teammate? Are there new apps or websites that are particularly concerning?

 

Fortunately, there are numerous resources to learn how to keep your children safe online. Here are a few:

 


There are tips for parents, interactive learning tools for children, and helplines for teens. The most important factor in keeping your children safe online, however, is communication!

 

It also helps to be prepared for cyberbullying incidents. Dare to Care’s bully prevention program helps build adults’ awareness of the signs of cyberbullying, and teaches them practical, effective strategies for addressing it. Age-appropriate modules for children give them the tools they need to find their way back to safety.

 

For 25 years, Dare to Care has been bringing effective bully prevention education to schools and youth sports programs across Canada and the United States. Dare to Care promotes a common understanding of what bullying is, and isn’t, and provides participants with a toolkit of usable skills. Practice sessions and role-playing reinforce learning so that everyone, from young children to experienced educators, can feel confident enough to act in the face of bullying behavior. The result is more consistent intervention and follow-through, which leads to lasting transformation.

 

In honor of Dare to Care’s 25th anniversary, we are inviting everyone in the community to support our work to create a lasting impact on peoples’ lives.  Support our work through the Rogers Birdies For Kids presented by Altalink program. All donations are matched up to 50%.

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