Keeping Children Safe Online

Online usage has increased significantly over the past number of years, and since the beginning of the Coronavirus pandemic, the increase in the amount of time we spend online including using social media, online gaming, and streaming television programmes is palpable.
For many, interacting with friends and family virtually has become the norm, with coronavirus forcing us to replace face to face social interaction with video calls and messaging services.
However, although the internet is a fantastic way to keep in contact with others, especially in the current climate, there are some risks associated with its use and it is important to know the risks and stay safe when using it.
Young people have been identified as particularly at risk and vulnerable at the moment, with Childline reporting that over 7,000 Childline counselling sessions with children in regard to COVID-19 have occurred since January. These sessions revealed that young people were feeling especially lonely and anxious during lockdown exemplifying that they are particularly vulnerable and susceptible to online scams, bullying and   

Research has found that around 87% of adults have concerns around young people’s use of these platforms. In Wales 63% of parents are worried that their child will be bullied online, whilst 65% are worried that their child may see content online that encourages to hurt or harm themselves. . Bullying or trolling, harmful or age-inappropriate content and receiving private messages from strangers are among the top concerns.

The advice has been split into two sections, one for 5-11-year olds and another for 12-18-year olds due to the significant differences in what content these two age ranges engage with and the difference in their behaviour online. 

 

Keeping your child safe online - 5-11-year olds

It is fundamental that you ensure your child is staying safe online at all ages. When it comes to going online, younger children are most likely to use a tablet, but also are given access to mobile phones, PC’s and smart speakers. Increased education on the dangers of going online can help ensure that any potential risks are mitigated, and parents educated on how to keep their child safe.

For the younger age ranges, the most popular sites include streaming videos online, with YouTube being the most popular, and also the use of online games.

On-demand streaming

Streaming services and on demand sites provide a fantastic choice of content for children to engage with so that they can watch at any point throughout the day as opposed to waiting for a specific time to watch a programme.
Many of these services are aimed at both adults and children, and therefore children and young people can have access to content that is not appropriate.

Some notable statistics include:

  • 40% of 5-7-year olds use a tablet to watch TV whilst 12% use a mobile phone.
  • 42% of 8-11-year olds use a tablet to watch TV and 22% use a mobile phone.
    (as opposed to watching live TV, they are more likely to watch On Demand or on streaming services such as Netflix or Prime Video.)
  • In 2019, 49% of 8-11-year olds would prefer to watch YouTube over both SVoD and TV content.

In order to keep your child safe online it is important to set Parental controls on each of the streaming services that you are allowing your child access to so that they do not come across anything unsuitable.
Some streaming services offer the option to set up a separate page in your child's name that only shows content suitable for children.

YouTube

A large proportion of 5-11-year olds watch YouTube and whilst this may seem harmless, it is important that they are viewing appropriate content. Research has found that 64% of 5-7-year olds watch YouTube for 8hrs 36minutes a week, with 11% watching vloggers, whilst 74% of 8-11-year olds watch YouTube for 10hrs a week, with 27% watching vloggers.
 

Some issues with YouTube include:

  • Inappropriate content – such as promoting unsafe behaviour and inappropriate content for the child’s age.
  • Inappropriate adverts – some surveys have found that adverts at the beginning of YouTube videos are not suitable for younger children.
  • Vlogging can result in the promotion of products that are not suitable for the age range.
  • Receiving nasty or negative comments from people they know and/or don’t know.

Unfortunately, YouTube’s parental controls are quite limited, however, there are still ways in which you can limit the inappropriate content your child may have access to.

Ways in which you can ensure your child stays safe when using this platform include:

  • Approve and preview what your child watches before they watch it so that you can make sure it is appropriate.
  • Set age-appropriate limits – parental controls can filter out the majority of inappropriate content and YouTube has safety settings.
  • Set a screen time limit and a ‘digital curfew’, especially as the National Sleep Foundation suggests that increased use of electronic devices at night can impede on the quality of sleep.
  • Talk to your child, let them know that they can talk to you if they view something that upsets them.

Gaming

Reasons why young people like to play games include them being entertaining and engaging, whilst at the same time being an additional way in which to socialise with friends. In addition to being fun, research has proven that some games can be beneficial for cognitive development, however, there are also risks to online games.

Around 62% of 5-7-year olds play games for 6hrs 18mins a week, while 79% of 8-11-year olds play online games for 9hrs 30mins a week, exemplifying just how much time children in this age range spend on this type of online platform.

Almost ½ of all girls aged 5-15 now play games online, up from 39% in 2018. In 2019 59% of 5-15-year olds played online games, up from 45% in 2015. However, 42% of parents are concerned about the pressure for their child to make online purchases.

The risks of gaming online include:

  • Bullying and cyberbullying from both strangers and people they know
  • Conversing with strangers
  • Trolling and scams
  • In-game purchases.

Ways in which you can protect your child when using online games:

  • Limit the communication with strangers - if it is a game that allows your child to talk to people they do not know, you could, for example, turn off the communication features that allows inappropriate behaviour from others.
  • Check the games content so that you know it is suitable for your child’s age. 
  • Talk to your child about the games that they are playing
  • Set a time limit and/or some limits around the number of games your child can play or how long for.

 

Keeping your child safe online: 12-18-year olds

As children get older, their online usage often increases and the services, websites, games and apps they use, often change and as does the content that they can access on them. However, there are still significant risks that are associated with internet use, and it is often harder to identify them. 

Gaming

Online gaming is often considered a great way for young people to socialise with their friends and keep busy, with the games often being fun and entertaining. Young people can play games on game consoles, apps, and websites and on either smartphones, tablets, or PC’s exemplifying just how accessible they are.
As children get older their knowledge and use of games is likely to increase significantly, with 81% of 12-15-year olds playing games for 11hrs 36mins a week. The type of game that young people play is likely to change as they get older, and whilst the risks are comparable to those in the younger age ranges, they are significantly heightened due to young people having increased independence and freedom on the gaming platforms. 

The risks of online games to 12-18-year olds include:

  • Bullying – A study found that ½ of all young people playing online games had experienced bullying, this has been found to increase as children move into secondary school age.
  • Trolling and scams – young gamers are seen to be more susceptible and scammers have been found to target them.
  • In-game purchases – this can lead to accidental spending of large sums of money.
  • Talking to people they do not know – these risks include bullying, grooming and exploitation.

Ways in which you can protect your 12-15-year old child when using online games:

  • Teach your children about keeping safe online. This can include emphasising points such as not clicking on links from strangers, not sharing personal information, not participating in bullying of other players, and what to do if they observe or experience bullying themselves.
  • Limit the communication with strangers – many young people would understand how to turn this back on and therefore whilst it is effective if your child is experiencing bullying, it is not a comprehensive solution hence why it is important to explain to your child the risks of talking to strangers. Due to many players being anonymous, they cannot always be held accountable for their actions if they are hurtful or negative.
  • Check the games content so that you know it is suitable for your child’s age.
  • Set a time limit and/or some limits around the number of games your child can play or how long for.

 

Social Media

Social media makes it easy for friends and family to stay in contact with one another, and it has increasingly become a large part of young people’s daily lives over the past few years. It can easily be accessed on smartphones, tablets and laptops, and since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, use of these sites has increased significantly due to only being able to contact people virtually.  

A total of 83% of 12-15 year olds have their own smartphone meaning that they can easily access social media sites at all times providing they have internet access, especially as 74% of this age group who own a mobile phone being allowed to take it to bed with them. Around 71% of 12-15-year olds have a social media profile, meaning that a large proportion of young people may be exposed to certain risks that this entails.  

The NSPCC estimated that there are 90 cybercrimes recorded a day against children, with online grooming, scams and bullying being the main threats. Law enforcement agencies in the UK are currently arresting around 450 individuals and safeguarding over 600 children each month through their efforts to combat online CSE. In the UK alone, it is estimated there are 80,000 people who present a sexual threat to children online.
Research has found that 52% of parents in Wales are worried about their children being radicalised online, whilst 58% are worried that their child may share content that might damage their reputation.

Some of the main threats to young people on social media include:

  • Talking to strangers – this can result in exploitation and grooming.
  • Bullying and cyberbullying – from both strangers and people they know.
  • Scams – being scammed out of money or information.
  • Sharing personal information e.g.  location – this can result in people using this information against them, e.g. stalking.
  • Seeing or sharing content that encourages them to hurt or harm themselves.

 

Usage

  • Tablets are used by 68% of 5-15s in 2019 - up from 64% in 2018. This increase has been driven by the 8-11-year-old age group – from 66% to 72%.
  • The proportion of 5-15s using a mobile phone to go online has also increased since 2018 (from 50% to 55%), now matching laptop use which remained stable year on year (55%). As with tablets, the increase in mobile phone use to go online was driven by increased use among 8-11s (from 41% to 49%)
  • Children in DE homes are less likely than those in AB homes to use either a tablet to go online (59% vs. 72%) or a mobile phone to go online (49% vs. 62%).
  • Children in Wales are also more likely, along with those in Northern Ireland, to use a tablet to go online (79% and 75% compared to 67% in Scotland and 68% in England).

What to do if you are concerned about your child activities online:

  • Talk with your child, let them know what is and isn’t appropriate for their age.
  • Set up Parental Controls.
  • Contact ChildLine and state that the child can also contact ChildLine if they are worried.
  • Report any illegal, explicit or distressing content to CEOP through their website. You can find about more about reporting content on our sexting page.
  • block any distressing, inappropriate or upsetting content on social media websites. You can learn how to do this through Net Aware, in partnership with O2.

Support Services for both parents and children if you are concerned about staying safe online

  • Childline: 0800 1111
  • Action for Children: Parent Talk advice site.
  • NSPCC have an advice site.
  • Internetmatters.org
  • UK Safer Internet Centre: resources and advice here.

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