Social networking is one of the most popular online activities in Canada. In fact, according to the Canada Online! study, 40 per cent of all Canadians use a social networking site. Facebook is the most popular of these sites by a long shot, with over seven million active Canadian members.

The Internet offers young people important opportunities to socialize with their friends and families as well as to find people who share common interests and communities that can provide emotional support. It is also inevitable that at an age where young people are starting to explore their sexuality offline, they will do so online in these interactive environments as well.

Due to its sensational nature, the spectre of unscrupulous adults preying upon and sexually exploiting youth online gets a lot of media attention. Although this does happen, sensational headlines do not help us understand the nature and true extent of the problem or how to deal with it effectively.

As adults, we want to foster resilience in young people, starting when they’re young. This can be done by teaching them how to handle harassing messages or requests that make them feel uncomfortable – on the Internet or in the schoolyard – and, as they get older, by teaching them how to spot and respond to emotional manipulation. The good news is that most teens are effectively handling online requests from strangers – the bigger challenge is helping them handle sexual advances from people they know.

For most youth, the Internet is all about socializing, and while most of these social interactions are positive, increasing numbers of kids are using the technology to intimidate and harass others – a phenomenon known as cyberbullying.

We don’t always hear the clock ticking when we’re online and young people are no exception. Between doing research for homework, talking with friends, updating social networking pages and playing games, it’s easy to see how kids and teens might lose track of time. Excessive Internet use, however, can negatively affect young people’s schoolwork, health and social lives.

It’s important to note that there is no single profile of a child who bullies. While some fit the traditional image of someone who is generally aggressive and has poor impulse control, others may be very sensitive to social nuances and are able to use that understanding against their targets.[1]

Verbal or emotional abuse is the most prevalent form of bullying online. Social bullying, another pervasive form – particularly with girls – includes social exclusion and spreading gossip and rumours.

Cyberbullying is everyone’s business and the best response is a pro-active or preventative one. From the outset, we can reduce the risks associated with internet use if we engage in an open discussion with our children about their online activities and set up rules that will grow along with them. Cyberbullying is strongly connected with moral disengagement – the ways we can fool ourselves into thinking it’s all right to do something we know is wrong or to not do something we know is right – so activating kids’ empathy and moral judgment is a key aspect of preventing it.

Digital Issues
Internet and mobile communications technologies offer a wealth of opportunities for fun, learning, and exploration. They also present parents and teachers with a host of concerns and worries. In this section, you can find resources on how to tackle these issues in a positive way.

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