Manitoba

Kik reveals risks facing teens online, says Canadian Centre for Child Protection

The associate executive director of Winnipeg-based Canadian Centre for Child Protection hopes a CBC investigation into the kid-friendly app Kik sounds the alarm for parents.
Kik was created seven years ago in Waterloo, Ont. It allows users to send messages directly to other users, without first approving them on a friend or contact list and features animated characters and juvenile emojis which appeal to kids. (Amanda Grant/CBC)

The associate executive director of Winnipeg-based Canadian Centre for Child Protection hopes a CBC investigation into kid-friendly app Kik sounds the alarm for parents.

Using a fictitious account of a 13-year-old girl, CBC discovered it didn't long for older adults to attempt to make contact with the fake user on Kik. The app, which features kid-friendly emojis and animations, allows strangers to anonymously connect with other users, many of whom are under 18.

Signy Arnason of the Canadian Centre for Child Protection says that kind of communication opens the door to potential child exploitation.

"We know that kids are approached online," Arnason said.

"We need more people to be aware that this is going on."

Arnason said a troubling issue she sees with Kik is the app allows users to communicate anonymously and kids can't control who can contact them.

"You can have anyone at any moment in time send you any kind of message, that includes an image and a video," she said. 

It doesn't take long in an environment like that for tweens and teens to be "exposed to pretty sexually explicit stuff," Arnason said.

Parents have a role to play in protecting their children from this type of communication but it's impossible to monitor everything your child does online, especially as they get older, she said.

"I'd like to meet the first parent who's raising a teenager that knows everything they're doing," Arnason said.

Instead, parents should try to have discussions with their teens about who they are communicating with and what they are communicating about, she said. Talking about CBC's story on Kik messenger, for example, could be a useful way of starting that conversation, she said.

"You'd be surprise with what they'd share with you," said Arnason.

The underlying message parents need to send their children is they can come forward if they're ever in a challenging situation online. Let teens know that if they're facing a problem, they can come to their parents for help.

"You have to remain invested. What happens with teenagers is they appear so mature and that they can manage things. Well we know that they can't — judgement, reasoning all those important things aren't fully developed," she said.

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