As we find ourselves in an unprecedented time, full of uncertainty, fear and melancholy, it is key that we stay safe and help to keep others safe. However, during this period of lockdown, it is not only the virus that is posing a threat to children. Being quarantined in our homes, having online lessons and using online platforms to communicate with our friends and family, children are spending increasing amounts of time on the digital world; for some, hours surfing the internet and engaging with others on online forums.
During this period, there are people out there who are targeting, exploiting, grooming, sexting and emotionally abusing children due to this huge online presence. It is vital that we do everything to help keep children across the country safe. It is key that children stay safe online and also, for parents to know how to help to keep their children safe. Hence, I have put together a short guide on how both children and parents can work together to ensure that they are safe on the digital world.
The first piece of advice is to have open, healthy, honest and respectful conversations about the online world between parents and children. Encourage short and healthy dialogue sessions. Try to avoid lectures and make talking about the online world fun and engaging. Speak of not only the dangers that the online world poses, but also the positives – share positive news stories, conversations with friends, family and more.
For children, here are some way you can ensure that you are staying safe online:
1. Do not talk to strangers or unfamiliar people on the internet. If you are unsure of who someone is online, ask your parents first before engaging with them or block them immediately.
2. Never give any personal information, whether that be your name, address, school, passwords, information about family etc. to anyone online.
3. Never meet someone that you met online, who you don’t know in person.
4. Always think about what you are sharing on social media. Never send or share any explicit photographs to people regardless if they are your friends or not.
5. If you are talking to someone online who is making you uncomfortable, controlling you or pressuring you into sending explicit photos, remember, you do not have to talk back to them. Block them and report them.
6. On social media and on online forums, never write or post hateful comments – these comments you post will be on the internet forever!
7. In these circumstances, where we are scared, uncertain and isolated in our own homes, we also need to be taking care of our mental health. There is no pressure on us children to be productive, to be perfect on the inside and outside. So, I strongly advise you to unfollow any accounts on social media that make you feel negative about yourself, your personality or your image. At this time, we need to surround ourselves with positivity. Unfollow accounts that make you feel down and follow those that uplift, motivate or inspire you, make you laugh or smile and fill you with joy.
8. If you have any questions about something you read or if you are unsure about anything on the digital world, ask your parents or teachers.
There are a large number of people out there who are looking to exploit children online. A lot of these people will try to pose as friends, friends of friends, boyfriends, girlfriends, professionals and other relatable profiles. But there are ways we can spot the RED FLAGS, to prevent us from engaging with these types of people. Children AND parents – please review these carefully to keep safe:
If the person you are talking to online is:
• Easily jealous
• Promises things that are “too good to be true”
• Always knows ways to make a lot of money
• Knows ways for you to make money but doesn’t share a lot of details
• Flashes money or very expensive goods
• Vague about their job
• Vague about their personal lives
• Encourages or puts pressure on you to share explicit content
• Projects financial responsibility
• Demands sexual activity
• Easily angered
• Reluctant to share photographs/identification of themselves
• Threatens you in any way
• Constantly saying negative things about you
These are all signs of someone who is trying to exploit you.
IF this happens to you immediately alert an adult, parent or teacher. Note that it doesn’t matter how old you are, your gender or location – at the moment, as long as we are online, we are all at risk.
Parents can also spot the signs of online abuse by observing their child’s behaviour. The Monique Burr Foundation for Children gives great advice on how you as parents can spot the signs of online abuse whether it be emotional or sexual abuse, cyberbullying or being in an unhealthy relationship.
Despite this, as I wrote earlier on, I would definitely encourage children and parents to use the online world to drive positivity. Use the digital world to make you laugh, connect with family, play games, research your interests and more! My plea to you all is to simply be aware of the signs and stay safe.