The internet is a wonderful place to learn, shop, play games and communicate with friends and family. In fact, online activity has now become a normal part of day to day life within most households. Unfortunately, there are also risks associated with online activity that pose harm to all users, including children and young people. Key concerns include: predators seeking out the vulnerable with ill intent; hackers and identity thieves; trolls and cyberbullies. Therefore, in order for us all to become safer online, it’s important for schools, parents/carers and children to be aware of potential dangers and understand how to safeguard against them and how to report and address concerns when they arise. We continue to prioritise keeping our school communities safe online and full details of our commitment in this area can be found in our e-safety policy. If you have any concerns about your child relating to online safety, please contact the school’s safeguarding team for support and signposting to additional help.
There are lots of resources available with specialist advice and support and a comprehensive list of recommended resources can be found in our e-safety policy. However it can often be difficult to know where to start. In our experience, it is usually with a conversation with children. The resource right from National Online Safety details some of the points you may wish to consider before doing so. We appreciate that children and young people are often more knowledgeable or able online users than adults, by virtue of the world in which we now live, so this may help to navigate some of the key considerations. The NSPCC Share Aware parents’ guide has also been produced to help you keep your child safe online and their Net Aware tool is a guide to apps, games and social media, providing an overview of how safe they are.
The government has encouraged Internet Service Providers to help parents easily filter content. Switch on family friendly filters to help prevent age-inappropriate content being accessed on devices in your home. Parental controls put you in control of what your child can see. Internet Matters has step by step guides on how to set these up. Alternatively the NSPCC offers similar advice.
Specific safeguarding risks associated with the use of technology
Cyberbullying is any form of bullying which takes place online or through smartphones and tablets or computers, on social networking sites, messaging apps, gaming sites and chat rooms such as Facebook, XBox Live, Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat and any other such platform. There are many different forms of this type of bullying including: harassment; denigration; flaming; impersonation; outing and trickery; cyber stalking; and exclusion. This type of behaviour can also be threatening and involve blackmail and grooming. You can find more information at Bullying UK. This behaviour is not acceptable within our schools and details of our response to incidents of cyberbullying, and all other forms of peer on peer abuse, can be found within the schools safeguarding policy.
Although rare, online activity and feelings of stress and isolation may be exploited by online groomers to target vulnerable children and young people – including extremist influences seeking to radicalise vulnerable people. Extremists promote hateful views, for example through conspiracy theories blaming a particular group for the coronavirus, or through spreading misinformation about these groups’ responses to it. Issues including Black Lives Matter, and prior to this Brexit, are also being manipulated by extremists to suit their own agendas. Online exploitation is often hard to recognise. Sometimes there are clear warning signs; in other cases the changes are less obvious. Although some of these traits may be quite common among teenagers, taken together they could indicate that your child may need help. The Let’s Talk About It website lists some of these signs.
Online Sexual Abuse
A ‘groomer’ is someone who makes an emotional connection with someone online or in person to fulfil an ulterior motive which is often sexual. Children are commonly preyed upon online in this way and can subsequently become engaged in sexual conversations online or by text messages, sending nude images of themselves more commonly referred to as ‘sexting’, sending sexual videos of themselves or performing a sexual act live on webcam. In some cases this culminates in actual physical contact with the groomer then arranging to meet up with children in person. These ‘groomers’ can be of any age, gender, sexual orientation, race or religious background and rarely provide honest details to the child speaking to them.
Once a child sends someone sexual photos or videos of themselves, they lose control over what happens to them. The other person may end up sharing them with other people who might then keep sharing them. Someone could even use these images to blackmail a child. For example, they may say that they’ll post them online if they don’t keep sending more images. Similarly, when children have relationships with one another and engage in sharing of sexualised images, upon the relationship ending threats can also be made to leak these images to peers and this is referred to as ‘revenge porn’. Further information and advice can be accessed on the ThinkUKnow website.