Protect Your Kids from Online Exploitation

October 12, 2023

October marks Cybersecurity Awareness Month, a dedicated period to emphasize the critical significance of cybersecurity and online safety. Throughout this month, we will provide valuable Cyber Smart information tailored for parents and caregivers. Our goal is to empower you with the knowledge needed to safeguard your children’s online experiences effectively.

As parents and caregivers, our number one priority is ensuring the safety of our children. In today’s fast-paced digital world where technology is everywhere, it’s important to understand the potential risks our kids might encounter online. 

Online exploitation is a serious concern and one we must prepare for. It’s an uncomfortable topic – even a scary one for many of us – but by staying informed and taking proactive measures, we can help keep our children safer while also empowering them to navigate the digital landscape with confidence. Knowledge is power and knowing the dangers will help you protect your children.

What Is Online Exploitation?

Online exploitation refers to the manipulation or abuse of individuals, particularly children, through various online platforms. It can encompass a range of harmful activities, including but not limited to the following: 

  •  Cyberbullying: Cyberbullying involves using digital devices such as a computer or smartphone to embarrass, hurt, mock or threaten someone online. This type of online abuse can happen 24 hours a day, seven days a week. 
  •  Online grooming: Online grooming is when someone tries to manipulate and control a child through the internet. The goal of the person doing the grooming is to make the child feel comfortable and trust them, so they can later ask the child to do things that are sexual or inappropriate. 
  • Online luring: Online luring happens when someone, typically an adult but not always, uses technology like texting, direct messaging or chatting in apps, games or websites to target young people. Their intention is to trick or manipulate the person they are targeting into doing something sexual that they don’t want to do.
  • Sextortion: Sextortion is like blackmail on the internet. It happens when someone threatens to share a sexual picture or video with other people if the person in the photo or video doesn’t give them money (financial sextortion) or send them additional sexual images.
  • Child sexual abuse material: Refers to photos or videos of child sexual abuse. This material is often shared online. According to, this is a “global, social epidemic.”

You can find more information about these online harms, among others, along with safety tips and resources at It may be difficult to read about some of these examples but understanding these risks is the first step to preventing them.

Preventing Online Exploitation

By taking steps to prevent online harms, we can help keep kids safer and protected from potential dangers on the internet while still giving them the opportunity to explore and be creative online. Here are some practical strategies to help safeguard your children against online exploitation.

  • Establish clear boundaries: Set guidelines for online activities, such as time limits and the time of day children use their devices, appropriate websites and social media platforms they can use and where they can use their devices (i.e. use devices in a common area only). These decisions should be based on your child’s age and maturity level. 
  • Educate your child about privacy: Teach your children about the importance of safeguarding personal information, such as their full name, address, school details and contact information. Reinforce the need to be cautious when sharing information online, even with friends. Learn more about online privacy here.
  • Teach safe online behaviour: Educate your child about safe online practices and cybersecurity. For example, children under 16 should never interact with people online that they do not know in real life unless it has been arranged by an adult. 
  • Encourage critical thinking: Teach your children to think critically about online content and messages. Help them differentiate between genuine interactions and potential scams or manipulative tactics. Remind them that if anything feels wrong or makes them uncomfortable, they should talk to you or another trusted adult. 
  • Keep up to date on trends: Stay informed about the latest online trends, apps and social media platforms popular among youth. This knowledge will help you better understand potential risks and enable you to have meaningful conversations with your child about their online activities.
  • Identify a support network: Encourage your child to identify a support network of trusted adults, such as parents, teachers or other responsible family members, whom they can turn to if they encounter any concerning situations online.
  • Role-playing with a child is a great way to ensure that they understand what you are trying to teach them in terms of online engagement. 

Remember, awareness is key, and by combining multiple strategies you can create a safer online environment for your child. Language and mindset are also important to consider. We recommend avoiding fear-based language when approaching these conversations, and encourage empowering language such as reminding them that they have the knowledge and skills to be responsible and safe online. Always remember that the child is not to blame when others mislead or take advantage of someone online. 

By following these strategies, you and your children will be better prepared to prevent these scenarios and appropriately react if something does arise. 

Signs It May Be Happening to Your Child

While prevention is vital, it is equally important to recognize the signs that your child may be experiencing online exploitation. Stay vigilant and watch for the following indicators:

  • Look out for sudden, uncharacteristic behaviours, such as becoming withdrawn, anxious or secretive about their online activities.
  • Notice if they are complaining of stomach aches, headaches or are having trouble sleeping.
  • If your child is spending an unusually long time online, especially during odd hours, it could be a sign of engagement in potentially risky behaviours. Check in on them to find out what might be going on.
  • Be cautious if your child receives gifts, money or expensive items without a reasonable explanation.
  • If your child exhibits knowledge or engages in explicit conversations or behaviours that are beyond their age-appropriate level, this can  be a red flag that you should investigate further.
  • If your child suddenly loses interest in hobbies, sports or spending time with friends and family in favour of online interactions, it may indicate that they are being negatively influenced or manipulated online.
  • Watch out for signs of anxiety, depression or self-harm that may indicate that your child is experiencing online exploitation or bullying.
  • If you notice unexpected charges on your credit card or your child’s account, it could be a sign that they have been coerced into making purchases or providing financial information.
  • Pay attention to any sudden or excessive communication with unknown individuals, especially older individuals, through texts, calls or online messaging platforms. This would be an immediate cause for concern.

Reporting Online Exploitation

If you suspect or discover any form of online exploitation involving your child, it is crucial to take immediate action. The most important thing is to stay calm and be supportive. A calm demeanor will help keep your child’s stress level in check while you have these difficult conversations and make them feel safe and supported. Offer reassurance, avoid blaming language and let them know you are there to support and protect them. Also, let them know that there are things that can be done to fix the problem and you have tools to help.  

If you feel your child is at imminent risk, please reach out to your local police agency. 

Preserve any evidence of the exploitation, such as screenshots, messages or photos, which will be crucial when reporting the incident, and contact law enforcement for support. Reporting can be done via or your local law enforcement agency. These professionals will assist you in reporting the incident and provide you with the necessary support.

Building Digital Resilience

Digital resilience is the ability to navigate the online world safely and responsibly. By helping children develop digital resilience, we can empower them to make informed decisions and handle challenges effectively. 

Open and honest communication is the key to equipping children with the necessary knowledge and skills to navigate the online world safely – the same way that knowledge and skills are needed to safely navigate the offline world. Start by initiating age-appropriate conversations about online safety and the potential dangers they may encounter as soon as youth have access to the internet. Encourage them to share their experiences, concerns and questions openly without fear of judgement. By creating a non-judgmental environment, we can build trust and ensure that our kids feel comfortable seeking guidance when needed. Remind them that they can come to you at any time, or that they could go to any trusted adult. Or, if they are still uncomfortable, there are other resources like 

Promote positive online behaviour by teaching your children to be respectful, compassionate and inclusive in their interactions with others just as they would be in real life. Being a responsible digital citizen is a key part of their online experience and contributes to a positive experience for others. 

Finally, be a role model for your children. Lead by example and demonstrate responsible online behaviour. Your actions speak louder than words, and your children will be more likely to emulate your approach if they see you walking the talk.

As parents and caregivers, we know there are dangers out there that could reach our kids. The online world is no different from the “offline world” and it is important to approach it in the same way. Understand the risks, take precautions and equip your kids to navigate these risks while at the same time encouraging them to enjoy the many ways they can learn and play online. 

Learn more about Actua’s Cyber Smart Education project and preparing youth for a digital future.