I’d like to share with you tips from the book The Internet: Are children in charge?: Theory of Digital Supervision by Charlene E. Doak-Gebauer. I’ll give you my review and summary of the book, and you may want to buy your own copy.
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Book Review & Summary
This is a motivational and practical book about protecting kids online. The author pleads with parents to supervise your children online, to reduce the risk of their becoming involved with child pornography (as a victim, consumer, or producer).
The book doesn’t get into the technical details of devices or software, though it does tell what to watch for, and gives general steps to take to protect your kids. It would’ve been more helpful to include more technical details, or at least tell parents where to find those details.
Doak-Gebauer presents her Theory of Digital Supervision, which requires that parents be aware of the digital challenges your children face, supervise your children online, use Internet filtering, and guide children to make wise decisions when online. She says,
We cannot depend on Facebook, social media, Internet Service Providers, the government, and other platforms to protect our children. Parents are ultimately responsible for the safety of their children. Digital Supervision will give adults the confidence and ability to engage in online proactive child protection. We have to take back our children and avoid having the Internet “bring them up”, consume, and leave them open to predation and other vulnerabilities.
Doak-Gebauer says that by practicing digital supervision, parents can detect cyberbullying, suicide threats, exposure to pornography, poor communication skills, depression, loneliness, predation, and grooming towards radicalization and violence.
Doak-Gebauer’s message is powerful. She’s clearly passionate about the topic, and that’s understandable, given what she’s experienced. Her 4-year-old neice was victim of sexual abuse by a neighbor. The author herself was sexually assaulted by two different men when she was 15 and 21. And when she was a network administrator, she found child pornography on a computer she was working on. In 2014 she formed the non-profit Child Pornography Hurts, which was renamed in 2018 to Internet Sense First.
One chapter includes a script of a play that teaches about Internet dangers such as predation. Much of the dialogue reads like adults trying to sound like kids, rather than how kids would naturally speak. That doesn’t affect the lessons being taught, but it is a bit distracting.
There are a couple inaccuracies in the book. It says that gaming systems aren’t covered by an Internet filter, but there are filtering solutions that can cover gaming systems, such as OpenDNS. It also says that VPNs don’t provide anonymity, but they do provide a level of anonymity by hiding a user’s IP address.
The author is Canadian, so some of the stats and laws referenced are specific to Canada. Those details still support the points the author makes, for readers in other countries.
Because this book focuses on child pornography and sexual abuse, please note that this book and my summary here are for mature readers. Following are my notes from each chapter.
Are Children In Charge?
Theory of Digital Supervision
- Awareness: understand the challenges faced every time a child is on a computer, phone, gaming device, etc.
- Method: take steps to supervise children, including using an Internet filter.
- Hope: be committed to supervise your kids.
Forms of Online Predation
- Child predation
- Sex trafficking
- Domestic servitude
- Terrorist radicalization
- Forced labor
- Child labor
- Forced marriage
Over 20% of adults and 80% of children are exposed to porn unintentionally.
Child pornography is a part of the crime human trafficking. … Fighting child pornography is necessary for the protection of all children.
Most children aren’t capable of making good online decisions by themselves. Most need adult supervision and guidance.
Just as you wouldn’t give your car keys to a 12-year-old and let them drive around the city alone and unsupervised, you shouldn’t allow your kids to travel the Internet alone and unsupervised.
Theory of Digital Supervision Play
When your kids play online games, play the same games anonymously and observe their behavior. You can also make them aware that you’re playing. Later, discuss with them what you observed.
Have daily, open communication with your children about their online activities.
Always cover webcams when not in use.
Lock down the privacy settings of all family Facebook accounts. Hide friend lists. Set everything to be visible only to friends. Frequently review privacy settings.
Disable geolocation in Snapchat to prevent child’s location from being publicized.
Consider mirroring your child’s phone to your phone or computer, to monitor their activity.
Consider having your child’s emails copied/forwarded to you, for monitoring.
Code Words For Child Safety
Stats on sexual offences committed towards children, from Statistics Canada
- 88% were committed by someone known to the victim; 12% were committed by a stranger.
- Of the “known” acquaintances, 44% were an acquaintance of the victim or their family; 38% were a family member; 6% were an intimate partner of a parent.
- Of victims aged 0-3, 66% were victimized by a family member.
- Most sexual abuse of children occurs in private residences.
- Most sexual offenders are male.
Teach your kids to ask for a code word when someone says they were sent by you. Kids should ask for the code word even from family members.
Child on Child Sexual Assault
Filters can’t block all content and bad behavior, so use them along with supervision, rather than in place of it.
Have open lines of communication with children. Explain the difference between appropriate and inappropriate pictures. Ensure children feel okay to openly discuss online experiences with you.
The Dark Web
If you see signs that your child is accessing the Dark Web (such as using the Tor Browser), investigate.
Details About Grooming
Signs of grooming
- Excessive time on the Internet.
- Insisting they be given time and freedom.
- Angry outbursts when not allowed online.
- Keeping their online activities secret.
- Turning the screen off when an adult enters the room.
- Using sexual language that’s beyond their age level (but realize they could be learning it offline).
- Isolating themselves from the family for no good reason.
“Cyberbullicide” and Nudes
In Canada, it’s illegal to share an intimate picture of an adult or child without their consent.
Most countries consider anyone under age 18 a child. Pictures of nude children, or images of a sexually exploitive nature, may be considered child pornography by law enforcement.
Personal Body Safety
Teach your child that body parts that their bathing suit covers are not to be seen, touched, or photographed by others. Teach your child not to touch others in those areas. Teach your child that touching means any contact, not only touching with hands.
1 in 3 girls and 1 in 7 boys will be sexually abused before the age of 18.
Discussing potential abuse with your child
- Calmly discuss the incident with the child. Ask, “When did it start? How much information has been shared? Have pictures been shared? Were they nudes? Did you receive nudes, pictures, or porn?”
- Establish the extent of the situation.
- Block all suspected abusers and websites.
- Review the Internet history on involved devices.
- Gather relevant evidence.
- Remain calm and realize that your child may resist your help because they trust the predator.
- Contact the police to have the predator traced, if possible. Don’t try to deal with the predator yourself; they could be part of organized crime.
- Find effective counselling for your child.
Teach children how pictures can be taken, and with what types of devices.
Details About Cell Phones
You’re legally responsible for any device you purchase, including what’s done with it and the content it accesses or contains.
Watch for phones and other devices your kids may acquire and use without your knowledge, to hide their activity. You can identify them by checking the devices that connect to your router.
If you want to monitor all typing that’s done on a device, and possibly more activity, you can install a keylogger. You should still manually check the device. If possible, use a keylogger that doesn’t capture passwords, for security.
Create a technology contract with your child, which outlines your rules and consequences. Rules to consider:
- Don’t take the device into bedrooms or bathrooms.
- No nudes (nude photos).
- No strangers as friends.
- No sharing personal information.
- No sharing the device with others.
Security And Training Children
All parental controls have limited efficacy. Use them for young children, but realize that as children mature, they’ll learn how to get around the software.
Set parental controls on gaming systems. Check gaming history.
Child Pornography Survivor “Paul”
Signs of sexual abuse
- Hypersexuality (sexual touch or activity beyond their age)
- Aversion to all touching
Jeff Grey, Retired Police Officer
Charlene: And, if they deliver it and it is a nude of a person under the age of 18, they are in contravention of the Canadian Criminal Code, correct?
Jeff: Yes, that is right. Once they have shared a picture with someone else, it is then distribution and production of child pornography, depending on the age of the person in the picture.
Sarah Leyes Registered Psychotherapist
Signs of child porn victimization
- Child not being themselves
- Child being overly compliant
- Child being defiant
- Child having outbursts of anger
Teach your children that they may not erase browsing history.
Teach your kids that you’re monitoring their device for their protection.
Periodically check photos and videos on all devices.
At night, turn off the router or unplug the network cable. If possible, keep the router in your bedroom so kids can’t turn it on at night.
See what open Wi-Fi networks are available from your home. Ask your neighbors to secure these to prevent kids and others from using them for nefarious purposes.
Disable geolocation (location tracking) on all devices, to prevent the child’s location from being available to predators.
Don’t give your router password or Wi-Fi password to your child, to prevent them from connecting secret devices.
Teach your children to respect others online and in person. Teach them to practice kindness, love, empathy, mercy, and sympathy.
Regularly talk to your kids about safety, predation, sharing personal information, gaming only with people they know, etc.
Love your children, be compassionate to them, and guide them.
If you found this summary helpful, then read the book, The Internet: Are children in charge?: Theory of Digital Supervision by Charlene E. Doak-Gebauer.
The Resources page has additional books about Internet safety and digital parenting.
What You Should Do
Here are the top tips I’ve selected from this book.
- Don’t allow your kids to use the Internet alone and unsupervised.
- When your kids play online games, play the same games and observe their behavior. Later, discuss with them what you observed.
- Have daily, open communication with your children about their online activities.
- Always cover webcams when not in use.
- Lock down the privacy settings of all social media accounts in your family. Set everything to be visible only to friends. Frequently review privacy settings.
- Consider mirroring your child’s phone to your phone or computer, to monitor their activity.
- Teach your kids to ask for a code word when someone, even a family member, says they were sent by you.
- If you see signs that your child is accessing the Dark Web (such as using the Tor Browser), investigate.
- Watch your kids for signs of grooming, listed earlier.
- Teach your kids that nude photos or videos of minors may be considered child pornography by law enforcement.
- Teach your kids that body parts that their bathing suit covers are not to be seen, touched, or photographed by others.
- If you suspect your child has been abused, follow the steps given earlier.
- Watch for phones and other devices your kids may acquire and use without your knowledge, to hide their activity. You can identify them by checking the devices that connect to your router.
- Create a technology contract with your child, which outlines your rules and consequences.
- Realize that all parental controls have limited efficacy. Use them for young children, but realize that as children mature, they’ll likely learn how to get around the software.
- Set parental controls on gaming systems.
- Periodically check photos and videos on all devices.
- Consider turning off your router at night, to prevent your kids from using it. Ensure no open Wi-Fi networks are accessible from your house.
- Disable geolocation (location tracking) on all devices.
- Don’t give your router password or Wi-Fi password to your child, to prevent them from connecting secret devices.
- Teach your children to respect others online and in person.
- Regularly talk to your kids about safety, predation, sharing personal information, gaming only with people they know, etc.