By Jordie Dwyer
With the growing use of technology combined with younger children quickly becoming very good at operating in the online environment, it’s hoped a recently developed program will help educate everyone about the new dangers out there.
Called Power off Predators and founded by a social worker that saw a gap in the services and knowledge being used in battling the luring of children over the Internet, the program is aimed at giving children, parents and communities the ammunition and power back into their hands to fight off online predators.
Landa O’Neill, executive director of Power off Predators Foundation (www.poweroffpredators.com), explained in an interview earlier this month that the program was done as a pilot during the last school year with about 25 presentations being made and hopes that once the word gets out, they can bring their unique educational experience to more places.
“The program helps with recognizing the signs of an online predator as well as signs a child is either conversing with or being targeted by one,” she said.
“It involves a five-step learning process with programs aimed at three different levels – grades 4 to 6, 7-9 and 10-12 – with each with a different focus and approach.”
And what they found in just those few presentations, would be shocking to most adults that may think that having spent some time on internet security and safety would suffice.
“What we discovered is that quite a few have been approached online as technology grows. Children don’t need parents to access computers or the Internet. It was amazing to see how many Grade 4 to 6 kids raised their hands when asked who had their own cell phone or had a computer or laptop in their room,” O’Neill added.
“The targets are also getting younger, since they are spending as much or more time online now simply because parents are handing over their phones to the little ones to play online games.”
However, that’s exactly where the online predators lurk and children all too often easily hand over information that they shouldn’t.
“(These predators) want pictures and in one example we show – a man pretending he liked trading cards then targeted some young children and we found it was amazing how easily how he got a photo and an address,” she stated.
“These kids wouldn’t be friends with these people in the real world. It’s not like stranger danger from the past, it’s more about interests and their chain of friends. These people are not always deceitful or lie and are most times well-educated,savvy and smart in how they hide.”
O’Neill added one recent example nearby showed it’s not just the creepy old man from down the street, but that the largest demographic is 18 to 45 year olds.
Earlier this year, a 45-year-old Edmonton man was arrested after being suspected of luring young children through online gaming activity. He drew them in by stating he was in Italy and compiled a list of 35 children in the city, complete with their addresses, phone numbers and schools that was found by police on his computer.
“Kids are having conversations with people from all over. The end game for predators is to get a meeting with the children and it involves a grooming process through gaming, Facebook, Tumblr, etc,” she explained.
“That’s why we use interactive learning to show what to watch for, what the signs are and then provide the child, parents and those in the community with information and some tools to deal with if they believe a child is engaged with an online predator.
“The big focus is really letting everyone know would you want your parents, friends or family to see what you are going to share, offer or post online? As well, we do talk a bit about cyberbullying, and with that, would you forward something like a photo that you wouldn’t want people to see you doing?”
While the organization is hoping to include more schools in their presentations starting this fall, O’Neill explained there are places parents, children and community members can turn to such as Kids Help Phone (1-800-668-6868 orkidshelphone.ca), the Canadian Centre for Child Protection (www.cybertip.ca) and the Internet Child Exploitation (ICE) police investigation units that operate in the province.