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As the old public service announcement used to say, “It’s eleven o’clock; do you know where your kids are?” Today the answer will likely be “online.” After all, that’s where their music, movies, and friends are. Unfortunately, it’s also where they may find threats such as cyberbullying, exploitation, and online gambling. So to help you keep your kids safe online, we’ve compiled some helpful tips.
Understand why your child is online
The Internet is a popular and integral part of everyday communication for kids and teens, and they tend to view it positively for several good reasons:
- It helps them stay connected to other people in their lives, like friends.
- It helps them take a break and escape from pressures, such as homework.
- It fosters a strong sense of community and belonging.
- It helps them learn new information.
Learn about safe computer behaviours and teach these to your child, rather than restricting them from using the computer. If you are not a regular computer user, make an effort to learn how to navigate the Internet so that you will have a better understanding of what your child is doing.
Communicate with your child or teen
- Talk with your child about what’s going on in their life, including their online activities.
- Avoid trying to frighten your child about the risks associated with the Internet. Scare tactics convey the message that adults don’t understand the Internet and discourage kids from reaching out when they need help. Instead, let your child know that if they encounter something or someone who makes them feel uncomfortable online, they can come to you without fear of losing privileges.
- Make sure your child knows the Internet is a public place and that they understand how information such as their name, age, location, phone number, or school can be used to identify them.
- Let your child know that their instincts are their best guide. Teach them to block, ignore, or report people they encounter online who do or say anything they find unsettling (like asking them questions about sex, requesting photos, etc.).
Specific tips for parents of kids ages 12 and under
- Keep the family computer in a central location where you can easily monitor it.
- Be sure that a parent or trusted adult always supervises your child’s Internet activities and makes sure your child only goes on sites that you’ve approved.
- Create a list of Internet house rules with your kids, especially younger ones. Set limits for how much time your child spends online, which sites they can visit, etc.
- You should set up your child’s accounts and gaming consoles and activate parental controls as well as restrictions for who can play or chat with your child. Know your child’s passwords.
Specific tips for parents of teens
- Encourage your teen to think before posting information or pictures. Teach teens that anything they post online can be distributed widely in seconds, and that once they post it, it is very difficult to keep control of what it’s used for. It’s potentially out there forever.
- Check your teen’s social networking profile regularly.
- Encourage them to think critically about who they meet online. Reinforce that not everyone is who they say they are online.
- Assert that when teens meet an online friend in person, they should take someone they trust along with them. If this isn’t possible, stress that they must — at the very least — notify other people of their meeting time and place, and make a safety plan in case they feel unsafe during the meeting.
- Ask your teen to check with you before buying anything online.
- Explain to your teen that it’s illegal to:
- Threaten someone online or offline.
- Gamble online as a minor.
- Create, possess, or distribute naked or sexually explicit photos or videos of people under (or who look under)18 years of age. And in cases of teen sexting (when two minors send sexually explicit messages, photos, or videos to each other), the law is much more likely to get involved when the images or videos are shared without the permission of the person in them.
- It’s very important that teens know they should never post, forward, or distribute sexual or intimate texts, images, or videos of other people.
- A new law being proposed in Canada might change how sexting and cyberbullying are dealt with under the Criminal Code. If passed, Bill C-13 will create a new offence for sharing sexual images and videos without consent. It would also give the police more power to access people’s online information.
Help is out there
If your child is threatened online and you’re worried about their safety; act immediately. If you feel your child is physically at risk, immediately call the police. Report abuse to the website where it’s happening – many sites have ways to report this. You can also report cases of online sexual exploitation of children at cybertip.ca and sexual exploitation by texts at needhelpnow.ca.
Cyberbullying is a serious issue that can threaten your child’s sense of emotional safety and overall well-being. Report it to your child’s teacher. If that’s not effective, report it to your child’s principal or superintendent. You can also let young people know that they can call a counsellor at Kids Help Phone (1-800-668-6868) – we understand how damaging online bullying can be.
Young people can also get information at kidshelpphone.ca. Our phone and web counselling services are available 24/7 and are anonymous.
When asked, 70% of Kids Help Phone users said they have been bullied online.