Many children enjoy using technology and are learning to navigate websites, online games and consoles, and touch screen technology like iPads and smartphones from a younger and younger age. However, there are risks because the internet is increasingly being used by adults who are not who they say they are and pose as children. Understanding and talking about the dangers can help you keep your child safe online.
Social Networking Sites
Young people need to protect their online reputation.
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.The blur between public and private expression can potentially put a child at risk.
Content which is uploaded online can be copied, altered and reposted by anyone and it is very difficult to ‘take back’ what may be later regretted. Children who create or post inappropriate, offensive or even illegal content on their own or others’ web pages could get them into trouble with their school, friends and even the police, depending on the nature of the material.
Children also need to be aware of how much personal information they upload onto these sites. If a user of a social networking site doesn’t protect their information by enabling the correct privacy settings they might be sharing their information with strangers, some of whom may have malicious intentions.
Posting or chatting about personal details might enable someone to identify and contact your child online or in person. Those who share their information publicly can be exposed to more strangers online and can sometimes receive online hate and cyberbullying from people they don’t know.
Sexting The term ‘sexting’ describes the use of technology to share intimate images of yourself. It’s a word-mix of sex and texting. The content can vary, from text messages to images of partial nudity to sexual images or video.
This content is usually created to be sent to a partner, but can be between groups and can use a range of mobile devices, technologies and online spaces. Photos and videos are often created via webcam or Smartphone camera, and are shared on social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Flickr and Snapchat, Instagram, Tik Tok messaging services such as What’s App, and video sites such as YouTube.
If a young person under the age of 18 engages in sexting by creating an explicit photo or video of themselves, they could be held responsible for creating an image of child abuse. Sending this content on to another person is the distribution of an image of child abuse. By receiving content of this kind from another young person, they could be held responsible for possessing an image of child abuse.
The Association of Chief Police Officers of England, Wales and Northern Ireland have stated that young people engaging in sexting should be treated as victims in the first instance and not face prosecution as first time offenders, but the situation will be investigated to ensure the young people involved are not at risk. The police’s priority is those who profit from sexual images. Repeat offenders and more extreme cases are reviewed differently, still with a focus on avoiding prosecution unless absolutely necessary.
If someone is pressurising your child to send them a sexting image, inform the police. Not only is it illegal, but it may prevent them from doing it to someone else too.
Top tips for parents
Instil the mantra: 'Think before you post.'
Talking to your child about online privacy, and sharing content, is absolutely vital.Once any image has beensent, it is then out of your control. Even if you think you can trust the person that you've sent it to, it could be shared with others or posted elsewhere online. If you wouldn't be happy with your content being sharedpublicly, then the internet is not the right place for it. Ensure that your child knows the law.
Sharing intimate images over electronic devices is never a good idea,the risks are high. Sexting images break the law, for those that send, receiveand share them further. Discuss peer pressure.
The creation of sexting content is quite often due to pressure from a partner or group. Discussing peer pressure, and self-esteem, with yourchild is a positive way to encourage them to take responsibility for their own actions and resist pressure from others to engage in activities they areuncomfortable with, or know to be against the law.
Communication is key
If you and your child can have an ongoing open dialogue about their life online, whilst still allowing them the level of privacy with which you are comfortable, they will be more likely to seek advice from you if they findthemselves in a difficult situation.
Have the attitude that it can happen to anyone including your own child.
If it has happened, support your child. It will have been a very difficult and embarrassing conversation for them to have had with you, and they need your help and compassion.
Be prepared to report it.
If an image has been shared on social networking sites, report it immediately using the site’s reporting toolsbecause it breaks their terms and conditions.
Understand the role of CEOP
If you are concerned that your child has been groomed or coerced into sending the content, you need tomake a report to The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Command CEOP.
Internet safety advice is directly applicable to the gaming environment because of the risks that are present. It is essential that children are aware of these issues and are given the skills and knowledge to help manage and reduce these risks, with the help of those around them.
Just like offline games, these games and apps can have educational benefits, and be used, for example, to develop problem-solving and team working skills and understanding.
Many of these games are free to play/download.
Children have told researchers that their top concerns when playing online games are:
talking to strangers
They may also come across inappropriate content including violent or sexual language and images.
To help keep children safe whilst playing online make sure:
you know where and what they’re playing
they’re using appropriate safety settings
you talk to them about what to do if they see anything upsetting.
We strongly advise against banning online contact and gaming for the following reasons :
children will have a tendency to play in secret or find other means via their friends
it encourages secrecy so if a child is exposed to inappropriate contents, they are less likely to tell parents for fear of being told off or losing their devices
it does not teach them strategies of dealing with inappropriate content such as reporting it, switching on safety settings, talking to a trusted adult
Young people encounter sexual images both online and offline. This can influence how they think about sex, relationships and their own body image – and it can make children feel confused, embarrassed, disgusted or worried.
It’s important that you recognise and talk to your child about the sexualised content they have come across to help them interpret and critique this information and to help them develop healthy and positive attitudes towards sex, relationships and their own body.
Parental control tools and filters can help to reduce the chances of stumbling across pornography online, but it’s important that you give young people the most important filter – inside their head – to help them understand the world they live in.
Parental controls are designed to help protect children from inappropriate content they may come across online, such as pornography. These controls can be used to limit access to only age-appropriate content, to set usage times and to monitor activity.
There are four main places you can find parental controls, and it can help to set up a combination of these:
Internet provider: you can set up filters to help block access to inappropriate content on any device that connects to your home WiFi.
Mobile operator: filters are often automatically set up on mobile contracts, but you can double-check with your provider
Devices: many devices have parental control settings, for example, to help restrict spending in apps ordisable location functions
Online services: sites like BBC iPlayer, Netflix, Amazon Prime video, and YouTube have parental control settingsto help restrict access toinappropriate content
It’s worth being aware that no parental controls or filtering options are 100% effective. As children grow up, they can become quite tech-savvy and they may learn how to disable the parental controls already put in place. Be aware also that once parental controls by your internet provider are set up on your WiFi, if your child access 3, 4 or 5G at home, the parental controls can be bypassed.
Similarly, if your child goes to their friend’s house where there are no parental controls in place, they will be able to access whatever they want. For these reasons, it’s important to educate your child about the potential risks online, and establish rules concerning the sites that are suitable, or inappropriate, to visit.
Grooming 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.
Groomers use 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 using a different social network.
Often children may not be aware that they are being groomed.
Children are also being groomed online into sending sexually explicit photos or videos of themselves to these online groomers. In some cases, groomers threaten to make the material public unless children send more material of themselves.
Top tips for parents regarding communication with people online
Speak to your child about the differences between a friend online (someone they know) and a strangeronline(someone they don’t know). It is important to emphasise that however nice a new friend online canseem, itcan 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 tochat in a more private place online. Remind them not to send photos of themselves to strangers online, and not to give out personal information.
Don’t ban your child from using the internet or technology. Research has shown that children are reluctant totell their parents what they have seen online in fear of their parents taking away their phones/computers and restricting internet access. This perceived fear will increase the chances of your child being secretive abouttheir online experiences.
Having an open attitude and frank discussion not only increases the chances of your child being safe online, it helps them to learn the skillsneeded in life. Remember that your child cannot realistically be shielded indefinitely, they will need the knowledge and understanding to make good choices for themselves.
Cyberbullying is when someone uses technology, such as the internet or a mobile phone to bully others.
Cyberbullying includes things such as sending nasty text messages, excluding others from messaging apps, ‘hacking’ into someone else’s social media account, pretending to be them, ‘tagging’ people into statuses or embarrassing photos about them. ‘Indirect’ cyberbullying is bullying where a name isn’t mentioned, however it is obvious to all involved who is being talked about eg. ‘You know whose dress is disgusting’.
Being a victim of cyberbullying can be very distressing for a young person as messages can be sent anonymously and it is difficult to know who the bully is. Moreover, the bullying doesn’t always end once the victim has left wherever the bully might be (eg. school) as it can continue 24/7. When messages and embarrassing photos are shared online and not directly to the person, there are often lots of bystanders and victims can be very upset to see how quickly an embarrassing image or rumour can circulate online.
Top tips to help with cyberbullying
Don’t deny access to technology because this may prevent your child from speaking to you aboutcyberbullying. Instead create a culture where your child feels comfortable to discuss things that are worrying them.
Discuss cyberbullying with your child: ask them what their understanding of cyberbullying is, and how it is different to physical and face to face bullying. Often young people can confuse bullying with ‘banter’ and are reluctant to talk to others for fear of being seen to ‘not be able to take a joke’. Ask your children how they would react if they were being cyberbullied, or if their friend was being cyber-bullied.
Save the evidence: encourage your child to save the evidence of any messages they receive. They can do this by taking a screenshot of what is happening on the screen, or keeping the messages they’ve received. You can easily capture a screenshot on most smartphones and tablets by holding down several buttons on the device together (eg. the Home button and Power button). By doing this, they will have proof when they report the cyber-bullying.
Tell your child not to reply: most of the time the bully is looking for a reaction when they’re teasing or calling someone nasty names. Tell your child not to reply, if they do they’re giving the bully exactly what they want. Instead, they should tell an adult they trust about what they have seen. Reassure your child that if things have gone too far, even if they are at fault too, they should always come to talk to you or a trusted adult, and youwill try to figure out together how best to resolve the situation.