Below you’ll find video and audio recordings of the interview, and Doak-Gebauer’s answers to my questions about protecting kids from Internet predators and other digital dangers.
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Video Interview with Charlene Doak-Gebauer
Sorry that the audio quality on my side isn’t great.
Questions and Answers About Protecting Kids from Internet Predators
Why did you get started protecting kids online?
Doak-Gebauer’s 4-year-old niece was a victim of child pornography created by a neighbor. Years later, when Doak-Gebauer was a network administrator, she found child pornography on a computer she was working on. One day, she asked herself, “What can I do to help my sister and my family get through this?” She started Internet Sense First, her charity.
What are the biggest challenges or threats that kids face online?
“There are so many,” says Doak-Gebauer. Her 5 years of research uncovered huge risks.
Predators go where the children are, and now they’re online.
The biggest problem is that parents are not watching what their children are doing.
“We need to catch up to the digital age,” Doak-Gebauer says to parents.
Children viewing porn leads to depression, anxiety, and other problems, reports Doak-Gebauer.
When Doak-Gebauer speaks at schools, she asks kids how many of them have told a trusted adult that they’ve seen porn. No one puts their hand up. She says they don’t want to admit it, because they think they’ll get in trouble.
Doak-Gebauer laments the violence and objectifying of humans that takes place online.
Are you able to share any stats about the dangers of child pornography or other Internet crimes?
Viewing pornography is causing an epidemic of child-on-child sexual assault.
Mercy Hospital in Kansas City has has correlated the viewing of porn to child-on-child sexual assault, reports Doak-Gebauer. They’ve found that 51% of predators in their child sexual trauma unit are children between the ages of 12 and 15.
Doak-Gebauer shares that Thorn, an organization that defends children from sexual abuse, has reported that that between 2004 and 2015, child pornography and sexual assult from children increased by 5,000%. She says the organization recently reported that it has increased by 10,000%. Teens are sexually harassing and cyberbullying, asking others for nudes (nude photos).
You developed a Theory of Digital Supervision. Can you describe it?
There are three parts, explains Doak-Gebauer:
- Awareness: Realize the problems that need to be addressed. Realize that children are constantly on their devices, unsupervised.
- Method: Supervise your children online.
- Hope: Realize that you can supervise your kids online.
To illustrate the need for awareness, Doak-Gebauer shares that at a summit, she instructed parents to ask their kids what “nudes” are. The parents were astounded to learn that their 7-9 years old knew about sending nudes.
Doak-Gebauer has checked the criminal codes of several countries, and shares that when a child sends a photo of their nude body, that’s a criminal offense (producing child pornography) in the US, Canada, Europe, New Zealand, Australia, and elsewhere.
She asks, how are you going to know if your child is a victimizer, a bully, suicidal, or planning violent or terrorist acts? By supervising your kids online.
What warning signs should parents watch for in their kids?
Watch for these signs, says Doak-Gebauer:
- Child’s phone contains nudes that have been taken, sent, or received.
- Child withdraws from parents, saying, “You don’t know how I feel.”
- Child turns the computer off as soon as the parent walks into the room.
- Child starts acting differently than they usually do.
She reports that signs of grooming include:
- Child receives gifts they shouldn’t.
- Child becomes more secretive.
Check your kid’s phone and browsing history, advises Doak-Gebauer.
She recommends constantly talking to your kids about the people they interact with online, and asking questions about those people and about what your child discusses with them.
What warning signs should parents teach their kids to watch for in their friends?
Parents who practice digital supervision are instilling safety features in their children.
If your child goes to another house, or is with another friend, they’ll know what digital behavior is wrong, and will be able to speak against it, says Doak-Gebauer.
Police say that a nude can circulate a high school of 1,000 students in under an hour, according to Doak-Gebauer. She recommends sharing this stat with your kids.
Tell your children that if they’re in another home and they’re not comfortable with what’s happening, they should say they need to go home, without further explanation, recommends Doak-Gebauer. She says that it’s important not to offer an explanation, because if they start to do so, a predator or peer will try to talk them out of leaving.
I added that it’s great for kids to be a positive influence, because kids face so much negative peer pressure.
Doak-Gebauer recommends that you use an Internet filter, but points out that your kids can probably get around any filter, so you still need to supervise your kids.
When parents say they don’t want to invade their child’s privacy, Doak-Gebauer replies,
Is it invasion of their privacy or evasion of your parental responsibilities?
If your child sends a nude from a phone you own, you could be questioned by the police, because you’re the owner of the phone, warns Doak-Gebauer.
Parents that allow their children to [send nudes], and not investigate through digital supervision what their children are doing, are subject to being charged with distributing and possession of child pornography.
In most countries, if a child is over age 12, they can be charged with producing and distributing child pornography, says Doak-Gebauer. If the child has that on their criminal record, it can prevent the family from travelling across national lines, among other consequences.
If parents find nudes on their child’s phone, what should they do?
If they’re nudes of your child, delete them immediately, advises Doak-Gebauer. Then, ask your child, “Where did you send this?” Most of the time, a child takes a nude to send it, she says. And that’s considered distribution of child pornography.
If they’re nudes of someone else, the child is in posession of child pornography, warns Doak-Gebauer.
She says you can talk to the police.
Sending a nude is an extremely dangerous thing to do. … Once a nude is out there, you cannot take it back.
If you’re in Canada, NeedHelpNow.ca may be able to help remove photos from social media, says Doak-Gebauer. They also have counselors that can talk to children.
She recommends talking to your child constantly and openly about the dangers of sending and receiving nudes.
Digital supervision can be used to detect radicalization prior to a child performing an act (such as a shooting), explains Doak-Gebauer. Kids plan violence online, and the signs are there to see for parents who supervise their kids.
What else should parents watch for when checking their kids’ devices?
Check every icon, because kids can disguise apps and content, suggests Doak-Gebauer.
Check the photo gallery for nudes, she recommends. Ask your kids who the kids in the photos are, and tell their parents that their children are producing child porn.
Doak-Gebauer recommends filters on gaming systems, but points out that they have limited efficacy. Listen to what your kids are doing while gaming, and who they’re talking to. If possible, play the same game and observe their communication.
Check browsing history, advises Doak-Gebauer.
She recommends putting the computers in a public place in the house, and observing them.
She recommends that you keep your router in your bedroom, to prevent your kids from turning it back on at night, after you turn it off.
I added that parental controls and Internet filtering software can supplement parenting, but not replace it.
Parents tell Doak-Gebauer that they only allow their young kids on YouTube, to keep them safe. She points out that YouTube isn’t safe for kids to watch unattended, because it contains porn.
She shares these stats:
- 116,000 daily searches for child porn sites.
- 24.5 million adult porn websites, usually free.
- 13,000 adult videos produced each year; 507 Hollywood movies produced each year.
- Adult porn earns $13 billion per year; Hollywood movies earn $8.8 billion per year.
Our children need protection. That’s all there is to it.
When kids push back against monitoring and demand privacy, what should parents say?
The word ‘No’ comes to mind.
When you give your child a phone, you should make it clear that you own it, says Doak-Gebauer.
She says a phone isn’t like a private diary, because kids don’t use them that way; they share a lot of info that they’re not keeping to themselves.
As a parent, you have a responsibility to protect your children, says Doak-Gebauer.
Would you give them the key to your car when they’re eight years old, and let them drive around Las Vegas alone, or Toronto, or London, England? No, no you wouldn’t. … Once you have that gateway to the Internet coming into your home, your responsibility as a parent has increased exponentially.
Doak-Gebauer advises parents to install a keylogger, software that records what kids type, and can record pictures sent and received. She recommends setting the software to send you daily reports. If you stop getting the reports, it may be because your child has disabled the keylogger.
Be careful to use a keylogger that doesn’t capture passwords, because that’s a security risk, warns Doak-Gebauer.
She points out that security software may flag a keylogger as malware, so you’ll need to set your software to ignore it.
You recommend having your kids sign a technology contract. What should go into that contract?
Doak-Gebauer recommends that you create the contract with your child, because they may think of things you wouldn’t. It also gives them a chance to contribute and make choices.
She recommends these items be included in a contract:
- The phone will be put into a dock during dinner.
- The phone will be put into a dock at homework time.
- The phone won’t be taken into the bathroom.
- The phone won’t be taken into the bedroom.
- The parent will periodically check the phone.
- The phone will be put into a dock in the parental bedroom at night.
Ask your child what rules they think are fair, and compromise, advises Doak-Gebauer.
Realize that your children lie, warns Doak-Gebauer.
What should parents and kids avoid doing on social media, to protect themselves?
Parents need to be careful about sharing too many personal details, says Doak-Gebauer.
She shares this example: Your child, Billy, is 8 years old. On the first day of school, you post a picture and say Billy is nervous about his first day of school. You mention that his Trent down the street is excited about his first day too. You say they’re both excited to meet their teacher, and you give the teacher’s name. Later, you post a photo of Billy in front of your house. Later, you post a photo of Billy in front of the school sign, saying, “I’m so excited Billy’s starting grade 3.”
In this scenario, you’ve provided the following details:
- Billy is nervous
- Teacher’s name
- School name
- Photo of your house
With these details, a predator could go to the edge of the school playground and call Billy. He could say, “Your mom asked me to talk to you about being nervous. Over there is my van, which is my mobile office. Come with me.” Or, the predator could grab Billy on his way home from school.
Watch what you’re putting up about your children. … You don’t know who’s watching.
Don’t post personal info, and teach your kids not to post it either, advises Doak-Gebauer.
What should kids do when they suspect they’re communicating with someone dangerous?
Doak-Gebauer says that you should teach your kids that this could happen, and that if it does, they should immediately talk to you, a teacher, a police officer, or another trusted adult. She points out that unsafe conversations could be not only with strangers, but with peers or family members.
When she receives unwelcome communication, she blocks them. She says not to worry about offending someone.
Social media has changed the definition of “friend,” Doak-Gebauer points out. She considers a friend someone she’s had in her home, or has met for a meal.
There has to be a distinction between a friend and a digital ‘friend.’
You must not forget that you’re communicating with a human, says Doak-Gebauer. Don’t bully them. Don’t say something online you wouldn’t say face-to-face. Have compassion. Don’t objectify.
Much of the poor treatment of kids by kids is because parents haven’t taught them to treat others as humans, laments Doak-Gebauer.
[School] Principals, they’re tearing their hair out. Every time I speak in a school, they’ll say, ‘We’ve had a child charged with producing and distributing [child pornography]. And they whisper it, and I say, ‘There’s no need to whisper; every school I speak in tells me this.’
What work does your nonprofit, Internet Sense First, do?
The main thing is raising money for victims of child Internet exploitation, says Doak-Gebauer, who adds, “This is a lifelong problem.” She says that in Canada a victim may get $1,500, which may get them through 10 months. Internet Sense First supplements therapy for children. They also provide educational sessions for schools.
The main focus is to get the word out there: Digital Supervision exists. We can do this. We have to do it. Look at these poor kids. They’re victimized every day. Let’s get onto it and help them and protect them. We can.
Your book, The Internet: Are Children In Charge? is a helpful resource. How else do you recommend people stay informed of online safety issues?
The book will give them more of a roadmap to what they need to know. That will give them probably the curiosity to go online and learn even more. … I’ve been very careful to make it user-friendly.
Doak-Gebauer invites you to email her. She sends newsletters that contain stats and updates on what her nonprofit and team are doing.
If you found this interview helpful, then I recommend that you read the book, The Internet: Are Children In Charge? by Charlene Doak-Gebauer.
The Resources page has additional books about Internet safety and digital parenting.
You can also read my review of the book.
Where to follow Doak-Gebauer:
Doak-Gebauer offers that her team can put on an all-day conference about protecting kids online to any group that invites them and pays for their expenses. They’ve spoken to schools, corporations, police, and other organizations.
What You Should Do
- If you found this interview helpful, consider buying your own copy of The Internet: Are Children In Charge? As you read the book, take the time to follow its advice, and help your kids do the same. You’ll find some of the following points in the book.
- Teach your kids that sending and receiving nude photos or videos of themselves or other minors are often considered child pornography criminal offenses.
- Pay attention to how your children act and speak offline, watching for the warning signs of digital dangers described in the interview.
- Regularly talk to your kids about the people they interact with online. Ask questions about those people, and about what your child discusses with them.
- Teach your children that if they’re in another home and they’re not comfortable with what’s happening, they should say they need to go home, without further explanation.
- Use parental controls and Internet filtering software on devices your kids use, including gaming systems. Still supervise your kids, because they’ll probably be able to get around software restrictions.
- If you find nude photos on your child’s phone, delete them. Try to figure out where they were sent to, and have those copies deleted. Consider asking the police for help. If there are photos of your child’s friends, consider telling their parents that their children are producing child porn.
- Regularly check your child’s phone, and watch out for apps and content that has been disguised.
- Listen to what your kids are doing while gaming, and who they’re talking to. If possible, play the same game and observe their communication.
- Put computers in a public place in your house, and observe them.
- Keep your router in your bedroom, to prevent your kids from turning it back on at night, after you turn it off.
- Don’t let young kids watch YouTube unattended, because there’s a lot of inappropriate content.
- Create a technology contract with your kids. Consider the rules outlined in the interview.
- Don’t share personal info on social media, and teach your kids not to share it either.
- Teach your kids that if they’re uncomfortable with an online conversation, they should immediately talk to you, a teacher, a police officer, or another trusted adult.