Staying Safe Online
The following guidance is for parents & carers. Whilst reading this, please remember that the majority of internet use is safe, and the internet is a powerful tool for learning, entertainment and communication; we must educate and encourage young people to use it in a safe way.
This guidance is organised into 6 sections:
- How to report an issue
- Notable risks at the time of writing (April 2020)
- What you can do as a parent or guardian
How to report an issue
If you are worried about something that has happened online, be this something seen, read, or received, pupils should feel comfortable talking a trusted adult. This could be a parent, a sibling, extended family, or a teacher, amongst others.
If a child or young person has been a victim of sexual online abuse or grooming, use the website https://www.ceop.police.uk/safety-centre/ to report this.
If a child or young person has been a victim of bullying, have relationship issues, have family issues, or anything else they’re concerned about, they can contact Childline on https://www.childline.org.uk or 0800 1111.
If they are in immediate danger, they should call the police on 999.
Notable risks at this time (April 2020)
TikTok– an app for creating and sharing short videos. Users can create short music videos of 3 to 15 seconds and short looping videos of 3 to 60 seconds. It encourages users to express themselves creatively through video. Special effects can be added to the videos.
Thirteen is the minimum age, but there isn’t a real way to validate age so anyone can download the app. Also, parents express concern that there is a lot of inappropriate language in the videos so it’s not appropriate for young children. Lastly, by default, all accounts are set to public so strangers can contact your children.
Houseparty– a video chatting app. Friends can communicate with each other through live video and texts in chat groups. There’s no screening and the video is live, so there’s nothing to keep young people from inappropriate content. Users can send links via chat and even take screenshots. There’s also nothing keeping friends of friends joining groups where they may only know one person.
Social networking sites and apps such as WhatsApp, Instagram and Snapchat are extremely popular. Photos, videos, thoughts and feelings are often shared, either publicly or privately. Most sites have a minimum age of 13-years-old and offer different safety features.
Children can be at risk of:
- viewing inappropriate material or hearing inappropriate language
- oversharing information
- unwanted contact, including abuse and bullying.
Safety tools often include:
- blocking facility
- reporting facility
- privacy settings
- safety information centre.
Children should be supported to access, implement and manage the privacy settings on different social media sites. By having privacy settings in place, an individual can control how much information is shared on a profile and who can view it.
How to change privacy settings on
- Facebook: https://en-gb.facebook.com/help/193677450678703
- WhatsApp: https://faq.whatsapp.com/en/android/23225461
- Instagram: https://help.instagram.com/196883487377501
- Snapchat: https://support.snapchat.com/en-GB/a/privacy-settings2
Games are easily accessible and can be played on various devices. Advances in augmented and virtual reality means that games can appear extremely realistic. But with the increase in free gaming apps and live streaming, keeping children safe has become increasingly challenging.
Gaming concerns and risks are:
- viewing inappropriate material/hearing inappropriate language
- game play and chat offline with people they don’t know
- unwanted contact, including abuse and bullying
- oversharing through the voice and video technology used within games, including webcams and headphones or voice chat.
PEGI Age Ratings
PEGI rate games throughout Europe based on their suitability for different ages. The ESRB offers similar guidance in the USA and Canada. Consider the age rating of any games that your child is using, and why they have been rated that way.
Live streaming is a way of broadcasting or receiving live videos. This has become a popular way for celebrities to communicate with their fans. It is also a popular trend with vloggers. Young people can be at risk of being exposed to inappropriate or adult content. They also need to think carefully about content which they broadcast themselves, i.e. who can view the live content and what personal information might they be able to see.
There are a variety of livestreaming websites, such as YouTube and Twitch.
Ephemeral or expiring content
This is any type of online content that has an expiry date, after which it is seen to ‘disappear’. Ephemeral content began with Snapchat and is now a common feature on most social media platforms. The feature normally allows users to add throughout the day, building up a story. It is very popular with young people as it allows content to be created and viewed quickly and easily.
Video chat and webcams
Most tablets, games consoles and smartphones allow the user to take photos and videos. A growing number of social media sites allow live ‘chats’ for groups or individuals. If there is internet access, then these can be accessed at anytime and anywhere.
When security is set to private, a young person might think that what they are sharing online is private, but it could be captured in a screenshot and potentially shared with others making it public content. Young people should always be careful about who they are chatting to and what they are sharing online.
There is music, films and more which can be easily accessed and downloaded on the internet. Children and young people should be made aware that there can be legal consequences for illegally downloading content although they are more likely to use online streaming services.
Pornography – Pornography can often portray misleading attitudes around consent, gender roles and what sex is. A recent publication by the NSPCC and Children’s Commissioner reported five out of ten boys and four out of ten girls thought pornography was realistic.
Pornography can be viewed intentionally, for example, out of natural curiosity, or by accident. The content can show risky and violent behaviour, and portray unrealistic or stereotypical attitudes towards relationships, gender roles, body image and sexual performance.
Some pornography is illegal for anyone to view; for example, indecent images of children. If found online, this should be reported directly to the Internet Watch Foundation.
Gambling – There is growing concern about the amount of young people gambling, particularly when gaming. Skin gambling is where gamers exchange virtual goods that they have won or purchased with virtual gaming chips. These can then be sold and turned into real money.
Violent and extreme content
Young people don’t need to meet people to be exposed to violent extremist views. What they find, see and hear online can influence their actions and opinions.
Violent and extreme content exists across the different online platforms and has the potential to impact on young people’s emotional wellbeing.
Pro-eating disorders, self-harm and suicide
When asked, one in six seven to 16-year-olds had seen something online that encouraged self-harm.
What causes upset online is broad and variable depending upon both gender and age of respondents. In general, upset is most commonly caused by:
- abusive comments from peers and others they interact with online
- stories in the news and media that can be upsetting (for example, terrorist incidents, child suffering, and natural disasters)
- animal abuse – videos that show animal cruelty, images of harm to animals or upsetting stories related to animals
- upsetting content, such as shocking videos produced by YouTubers, content showing people being hurt, acts of self-harm.
Younger children are more likely to be affected by things such as:
- abuse from peers.
Older children are more likely to be affected by content such as:
- news and media
- animal abuse
- the behaviour of peers.
One of the biggest online problems is being able to recognise the reliability of information. The internet is a mine of information, including fake news and online scams. Some young people will trust online content more if the website looks professionally built or official terms are used. They may also think that the first result displayed by a search engine is the most trustworthy, accurate site, which is often not the case. A key skill young people must develop is the ability to think critically about what they see or the contact they receive online.
Technology is an integral part of children and young people’s way of building and maintaining friendships. How many likes and followers they have can influence how they are feeling.
Online contacts may or may not be who they say they are. Some may have ill intent; for example, sexual predators who attempt to groom children with the aim of meeting them offline. They may also be people who threaten, intimidate or bully others.
Education about online contact needs to reflect the risks of meeting up with someone you only know online as well as communicating with them online. Some strangers may exploit children through the internet with no intention of meeting up with them. Instead they may wish to obtain indecent images or videos so they can continue to exploit a child.
Online platforms can be a tool for individuals or groups to bully or intimidate others directly or indirectly. Cyberbullying is a form of bullying, and as such, targets of cyberbullying can be upset, hurt, humiliated, afraid, and in some cases, may lead to a greater risk of self-harm and suicidal behaviours.
A quarter of young people aged between 7 and sixteen say they have been bullied online, with one in 13 admitting to having bullied others.
Bullying can include text messages, ‘tagging’ people and deliberately blocking people in a group chat.
Grooming is the process of a young person being contacted on or offline with the intention of meeting and potentially harming the child or young person. A child may think they are online to a person of a similar age, with similar interests, but this is not always the case.
It’s not just girls that will be approached in this way. Someone may mask their gender as well as their age. Sometimes they may not change their age or picture at all but might instead mask their motive, e.g. a modelling scout or football coach.
Geolocation refers to the geographical location of a user or device such as a phone. Some services allow the geolocation information to be shared with other people; this could be with anyone the user is connected with online, allowing others to become familiar with where a person lives and their lifestyle patterns. Geolocation can be turned off per app via a device’s privacy settings.
Children and young people should be aware that their online activity can have an impact on themselves and others. They need to be educated about how to manage their online behaviour and report any concerns.
Sexting is when someone shares sexual, semi-naked or naked photos or videos of themselves or others. It can also be the sharing of messages with a sexual content.
Once the message or image has been sent the person has no control of what happens to it. Young people can be pressurised into taking images and then blackmailed with them. Sexting is often referred to by young people as sending nudes.
If a young person under the age of 18 engages in sexting by creating an explicit photo or video of themselves then they have potentially created an indecent image of a child. By sending this content on to another person, they have distributed an indecent image of a child. By receiving content of this kind from another young person, they are then in possession of an indecent image of a child.
The National Police Chiefs’ Council of England, Wales and Northern Ireland have stated that young people engaging in sexting should not face prosecution as first-time offenders, but the situation will be investigated to ensure the young people involved are not at risk. Repeated offenders and more extreme cases are viewed differently, still with a focus on avoiding prosecution unless necessary.
Even once a young person turns 18, an image of this nature will always remain an indecent image of a child as it is based on the age of the person at the time it was taken and not their current age.
What you create, post and share online is called your digital footprint and this is what shapes your online reputation. What others say and share about you also adds to your online reputation. A digital footprint can be negative or positive and can affect how people see an individual in the future.
Young people can be unaware that they are sharing personal information online, either by photos (an identifying school uniform, a road or shop sign may be shown) or by a direct conversation online. For example, when you add a picture to WhatsApp, the picture, name and phone number can be visible to the rest of the people in the group.
Personal information can include:
- name of their school or college
- phone number
- location, including live location.
Young people should be taught that they should keep their information, and that of others, safe.
Online sexual harassment
This is unwanted sexual conduct on any digital platform. Online sexual harassment can make a person feel exploited, upset, threatened, discriminated against and humiliated. This behaviour happens directly between and among young people and by witnessing it online.
Sharing information is a great way for young people to stay in touch with others. But what is shared and said and to whom it is said should be thought about carefully. Anyone who goes online and shares information should think before posting. Children and young people should be educated to understand the three C’s of risk – Content, Contact and Conduct.
What you can do as a parent
When talking to children and young people about online safety it is important to remember that they use the internet positively and differently to most adults.
Talking about the internet in an open way, remembering to highlight the positives will help your understanding. You should listen to the young people’s views and show an interest in what they tell you.
Questions you could ask:
- What do you like about being online?
- Which websites, apps and games do you think are okay to use?
- What sites do you like to spend time on?
- What don’t you like?
- How do you stay safe online?
- Have you any tips that you would like to share?
- Do you understand what privacy settings are and how to put them in place?
- Do you know how to block and report? Could you show me?
It is important to offer children and young people advice about how to do things safely online. This can be broad advice about staying safe online as well as how to act and behave online.
Advice should include:
- Choosing and sharing appropriate images and videos.
- How to avoid the use of key personal information; for example, in gamer tags, social media handles and email addresses, as well as not sharing other people’s personal information without permission.
- Not accepting requests from unknown accounts.
- Telling an adult if ever anything worries or upsets them.
- How to use privacy settings.
Children and young people should be given strategies to deal with content they don’t want to see or pressure to do things they don’t want to do. For example, blocking content they do not want to see.
Trends and crazes
Can you remember the trends and crazes that you were into as you were growing up; the ‘must have’ toy or hobby? As with life offline different waves of trends, crazes and challenges become the ‘must have or do’ online.
Some of these challenges can be to help raise awareness of a particular charity, but others can be more harmful and set a child or young person a challenge that can encourage them to pass a risky and/or potentially dangerous task to friends.
In addition to the points raised earlier, when you become aware of these trends and challenges you should:
- research the facts yourself so you know how to react if asked
- be aware that sometimes so-called online challenges are hoaxes
- seek further clarification on actions you should take if you are concerned
- not name the challenge or trend to young people, natural curiosity means they will search for it
- not show content linked to the challenge or trend.
Social media checklist
Children and young people should be encouraged to ask themselves the following types of questions about their online activity.
- Am I in control of my activity on social media?
- Do I know how to block someone?
- How do I report a problem?
- Who can look at the content I post, now and in the future?
- Who can view my profile?
- What does my profile say about me?
- Is my account public or private?
- Do I have privacy settings in place?
- How do I delete content?
- How might what I share make others feel?
- What should I do if something worries me online?
- Do I know how to be a good friend online and support others?
Encourage young people and parents to read game reviews, this will help them understand any potential risks. Common Sense Media can help them with this by following their SMART rules.
- Safe – Keep safe by not giving out personal information when playing online.
- Meeting – If anyone asks to meet up then tell an adult immediately.
- Accepting – Don’t accept gaming requests or links from people you don’t know.
- Reliable – Try to only speak to friends and family.