Online habits have changed rapidly over the last six months and those changes have meant a varied increase of opportunities – but also risks – to children.
For some families, lockdown has perhaps led to more time together online, and more cross-generational time together can only be of benefit to our young people in the north-east.
So often we have worked with parents who feel disconnected from their children’s online lives, or children who feel ignored by the adults closest to them. Changes towards playing more video games together, helping with schoolwork online and working together across generations to enjoy the benefits of the ‘digital revolution’ are great achievements that we all need to protect going forward.
However, for many other families, managing online use during lockdown has been a huge challenge, as with increased use there inevitably comes some increased risk.
The most recent study from the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) revealed that 9% of children may have been exposed to sexual approaches online during lockdown, and they may not have reached out or had access to the support required to deal with this.
Currently one of the greatest areas of risk for online sexual abuse remains video sharing apps where children’s profiles can be identified.
Most social media platforms – including Tik Tok (which has exploded in popularity during lockdown), Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook – have age limits of 13 years to sign up, and we can protect children by managing these accounts and preventing them entering onto these platforms too early.
There are several helpful apps available too, such as ‘BBC Own It’ which provides a helping hand to young people so that they can make the most of the time they spend on their phones whilst avoiding some of the pitfalls.
We know that to keep children in the north-east safe online, we need the help of our communities, parents and guardians, and we need to work closely together. As the most popular apps and games change constantly we need to build a community to share the most up to date and accurate information about online safety quickly and reliably, and we all have a role to play in this.
As a co-chair of the Online Safety Child Protection Group, along with Annabel Turner who is director of Cybersafe Scotland, we are committed to playing our part. In June we held an Online Safety Facebook Live Event where local experts were able to answer questions from parents, and we hope to hold many more of these sessions and would encourage you to join us for future events.
Please follow the CyberSafe Scotland Facebook page and North East Division’s Police Facebook page for further information, or if you don’t have access to Facebook search for the Cybersafe Scotland website online.
I know it might feel difficult to know how to start talking to your child about what they’re doing online or who they might be speaking to. But talking regularly, like you would about their day at school, will help your child feel relaxed and mean that when they do have any worries, they’re more likely to come and speak to you.