New Brunswick

Parents struggle to monitor children's online encounters

Two Moncton parents say internet safety is becoming more challenging as most teenagers now have mobile phones that allow them to communicate with anyone, anywhere.

Moncton parents Bonnie Porter and Erik Gingles say they try to balance trust and freedom

Parents say with the technology most teens have access to, monitoring their online activity is becoming increasingly difficult. (CBC)

Two Moncton parents say internet safety is only becoming more challenging as most teenagers now have mobile phones that allow them to communicate with anyone, anywhere.

On Thursday RCMP Sgt. Jean Marc Paré suggested parents ensure computers are placed in busy areas of the home after a 24-year-old Moncton man was charged with posing online as a teenage girl to entice boys to perform sexual acts which were recorded and distributed.

Bonnie Porter, who has two teenage children, says she's always had the family computer in the living room.

But says monitoring online activity is much more complicated with the introduction of mobile phones.

"Now with the iPhone they can go anywhere with their computer so you can have that communal computer but then you also have to have the communication and awareness," she said.

Erik Gingles has three daughters between the ages of 12 and 16. He says they have regular discussions about internet use and safety but there have still been concerns.

"There have been times when we've come across things online that weren't what we would want them to be but ... we told them if you got the phone part of the deal was that we could look at it at any time — we can look at any text message," Gingles said.

"I said if you change the password on your phone say bye-bye to 'Mr. Phone' for a while."

Porter says the same deal applies at her house, where she regularly looks at her children's laptops and phones.

"If there's a picture on there you wouldn't want me to see, then it shouldn't be on there. If there's a text message you wouldn't want me to read, then it shouldn't be on there, you shouldn't be exchanging it."

"They're given a very powerful tool but they don't necessarily have the maturity to be able to understand what the causes and effects could be from it," Gingles said.

Porter hopes she has taught her children well enough that they will be able to handle the responsibility but says a good check once in a while doesn't hurt anyone.

"They're young, they need to be pushed or gently nudged in a certain direction."

Teens need to be 'liked'

Porter says even with her policy of openness, there are always new things that come up that she hadn't considered.

For instance even though she had spoken to her 14-year-old daughter about not taking inappropriate photos of herself, they hadn't talked about what do when others took them.

"I had never told her not to receive a picture from somebody else which was a whole brand new thing, so then it was deleting pictures that other people send to you."
Bonnie Porter and Erik Gingles says having access to their children's phones and laptops is part of parenting in 2015. (Maeve McFadden/CBC)

Both Gingles and Porter say you have to take it day-by-day when it comes to parenting with so much technology available to children at such a young age.

"I grew up in the day and age where we passed notes and the phone was in the kitchen. You were lucky if you had a phone in your room," Porter said.

"Now kids have this privacy that they can take with them anywhere and it's a huge thing because they can get into a lot of trouble with it."

Gingles says what troubles him is that the advance of technology means this generation will never know what privacy is and he believes that makes them vulnerable to predators.

"There is nothing that isn't known about these kids and their life right now and if anybody has the wherewithal to target kids for anything they can."

He wonders what drives the need teenagers seem to have to be 'liked' online.

"If the need wasn't there to have these likes or to have attention drawn to yourself would they be less likely to take a picture that would be inappropriate?"

Porter says life online boils down to one big popularity contest.

"If at home they are feeling love, accepted, appreciated, all of those things and not just at home but by their friends when they're face-to-face then I think that there would be less need."

She says modelling good online behaviour is also part of parenting. 

"A lot of adults can post some very strange things as well ... if we are being good models then they're going to also try to model what they're seeing from their parents."​