The coronavirus pandemic has "fuelled long-term changes" to the threat posed by online abusers to children according to the NSPCC, the UK’s leading children's charity.
The NSPCC says children have faced increased significant threats during lockdowns and it singled out live-streaming and video chat as being particularly high risk.
In the same vein recently released UK Home Office offence data reveals there were 17,699 online offences against children recorded by police in England and Wales between April and September in 2020. This signals a 17% rise compared to the same period in 2019.
Of course it’s worrying for parents but context reveals the risk to be relatively small overall. In 2019, according to Statista there were 15.6 million children in the UK up to the age of 19. However, this in no way understates or diminishes the damage done to who have been victims of abuse. The harm caused can and does have long term and devastating consequences.
- Apps such as Zoom and House Party have become incredibly popular during lockdowns enabling children to stay in touch, engage, communicate and participate actively with each other.
- Essentially been a gold rush with hundreds of new ‘communication’ apps and platforms appearing with parents and carers unable to keep up and get on top of security controls.
- In some cases people troll through these apps and listen into conversations about people, find out information, take screenshots and post malicious and potentially damaging content.
There are a few simple steps that parents and carers can take to ensure children are not exposed to inappropriate online content.
- Have a dialogue with children about online safety spelling out the dangers and what they might have already come across.
- Research the new apps being downloaded before allowing children to use them, for instance House Party has a feature that locks conversation so random strangers can’t join or listen in.
- Revisit and strengthen existing parental controls so you can discreetly block inappropriate content that is being delivered by these new apps and platforms.
- Watch out for changes of behaviour among children which can include mood swings and anxiety.
- Discuss peer-on-peer abuse with children to get a sense of how much they are aware of it and whether they know what the appropriate steps are to take if they experience it such as informing responsible adults.
Below are some useful links for children, carers and parents
- CEOP – a policing division dedicated to safeguarding children online
- Childline – a safe, supportive online space for children
- Zipit app – an app for children to help them keep ‘chats’ safe
- Parent Info – help and advice for children in the digital world
- Thinkuknow – a website for children, carers and parents about internet safety
If you are reading this blog from outside the UK check your government and policing websites for further help and advice.