The internet is an amazing resource which enables children and young people to connect, communicate and be creative in a number of different ways, on a range of devices. However, the internet is always changing, and being able to keep up to date with your children’s use of technology can be a challenge. You may sometimes feel that your children have better technical skills than you do, however children and young people still need advice and protection when it comes to managing their lives online.
Issues that your child may encounter on the internet will vary depending on their age and online activities. We have grouped potential online risks into these 4 categories.
CONDUCT: children may be at risk because of their own behaviour, for example, by sharing too much information
Children need to be aware of the impact that their online activity can have on both themselves and other people, and the digital footprint that they create on the internet. It’s easy to feel anonymous online and it’s important that children are aware of who is able to view, and potentially share, the information that they may have posted. When using the internet, it’s important to keep personal information safe and not share it with strangers. Discuss with your child the importance of reporting inappropriate conversations, messages, images and behaviours and how this can be done.
CONTENT: age-inappropriate or unreliable content can be available to children
Some online content is not suitable for children and may be hurtful or harmful. This is true for content accessed and viewed via social networks, online games, blogs and websites. It’s important for children to consider the reliability of online material and be aware that it might not be true or written with a bias. Children may need your help as they begin to assess content in this way. There can be legal consequences for using or downloading copyrighted content, without seeking the author’s permission.
CONTACT: children can be contacted by bullies or people who groom or seek to abuse them
It is important for children to realise that new friends made online may not be who they say they are and that once a friend is added to an online account, you may be sharing your personal information with them. Regularly reviewing friends lists and removing unwanted contacts is a useful step. Privacy settings online may also allow you to customise the information that each friend is able to access. If you have concerns that your child is, or has been, the subject of inappropriate sexual contact or approach by another person, it’s vital that you report it to the police via the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (www.ceop.police.uk). If your child is the victim of cyberbullying, this can also be reported online and offline. Reinforce with your child the importance of telling a trusted adult straight away if someone is bullying them or making them feel uncomfortable, or if one of their friends is being bullied online.
COMMERCIALISATION: young people can be unaware of hidden costs and advertising in apps, games and websites
Young people’s privacy and enjoyment online can sometimes be affected by advertising and marketing schemes, which can also mean inadvertently spending money online, for example within applications. Encourage your children to keep their personal information private, learn how to block both pop ups and spam emails, turn off in-app purchasing on devices where possible, and use a family email address when filling in online forms.
Young people use social networking sites for many different purposes; to communicate with their friends, to share content and to find out new information. You need to remind your child that they need to be careful about what they’re posting online. Children can sometimes believe that social networking sites are a private space for them and it can be difficult for them to realise that what they’re posting online may be publicly visible and can be spread very quickly to a large audience.
Online grooming is the process by which an adult with an inappropriate sexual interest in children approaches a child online, with the intention of fostering a relationship with that child, so as to be able to meet them in person and intentionally cause harm. Groomers are very skilled at what they do and can often befriend a child by appearing to have the same hobbies and interests as them. Using fake accounts and stock photos, they may also appear to be the same age as the child. Children can be flattered at first by the attention given to them by this new ‘online friend’ and if they engage, they are often asked to speak ‘more privately’ with the groomer, whether that be away from an online game, or a different social network. Often children may not be aware that they are being groomed.
In more recent years, children can be groomed online into sending sexually explicit photos or videos of themselves to these online groomers. In some cases, unless children send more material of themselves, groomers can threaten to make the material public.
Top tips for parents
- Speak to your child about the differences between a friend online (someone they know) and a stranger online (someone they don’t know). It’s important to emphasise that however nice a new friend online can seem, it can be difficult to know how trustworthy they are, as it is easy to disguise your true identity online.
- It can be difficult to know if your child is being groomed online but watch out for a change in their behaviour such as them becoming more secretive, especially in what they do online, unexplained gifts such as a new mobile phone or meeting friends in unusual places.
- Speak to your child and encourage them to think critically about their online friends. Ask them to question why their new online friend has all the same interests as them or why their new online friend asks them to chat in a more private place online. Remind them not to send photos of themselves to strangers online, and not to give out personal information.
For more information and age appropriate resources for children relating to online grooming, visit Thinkuknow.
If you are at all concerned that a child in your care has been contacted by an adult online, it is important to report it straight away. Reports can be made to the CEOP Command (CEOP) and further information can be found at Inhope. Child sexual abuse content found online can also be reported to the Internet Watch Foundation.
Child Exploitation and Online Protection Command (CEOP)
CEOP is a law enforcement agency to help keep children and young people safe from sexual abuse and grooming online. We help thousands of children and young people every year who have been in similar situations.
We are here to help and give you advice, and you can make a report directly to us if something has happened online which has made you feel unsafe, scared or worried. This might be from someone you know in real life, or someone you have only ever met online.
UK Safer Internet Centre
Provide advice and support to children and young people, parents and carers, schools and the children’s workforce.
Brought to you by Vodafone, Digital Parenting helps you to get more involved with the technology that young people enjoy. Whether you’re a parent, a carer, a teacher or a teenager, it’s all about building children’s confidence and resilience so that they get the very best out of the fast-moving, awe-inspiring, sometimes-overwhelming digital world.
Helping children keep safe online. Also, advice and support for parents/carers.
Contact: 0808 800 5002