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Online safety

Children and young people growing up in the digital world use the internet as an everyday social utility, to communicate and to organize their lives. Technology and the internet also offer enormous opportunities to transform the lives and learning of children and young people for the better; to discover, connect and create.

Yet we also need to recognise that the use of technology has become a significant component of many safeguarding issues. These can include:

  • Being exposed to upsetting or inappropriate content online
  • Being at risk of being groomed if they have an online profile that means they can be contacted privately.
  • Unintentionally exposing personal information that makes their identity and/or location known, which could put them at increased risk
  • Perpetrators of abuse may create fake profiles to try to contact children and young people through the platform you’re using
  • Being the target of anonymous accounts being used to cyber-bully or troll

The focus should be on building children and young people’s resilience to online risk, so they can be safe and confident online, in conjunction with your organisation’s responsibilities to ensure safe and appropriate access.

However, adults have a responsibility to keep children safe and in this digital age online safety is a concern for all who work with, or are parents to children and young people. It is very important that adults try to keep up with internet-enabled technology and the ways in which children and young people inhabit the online world, even if it is different to the ways in which adults use the same technology.

Online abuse can happen anywhere online that allows digital communication, such as:

  • social networks
  • text messages and messaging apps
  • email and private messaging
  • online chats
  • comments on live streaming sites
  • voice chat in games.

The best way to protect children online is through education and conversation with them. Knowing that they can come to you or another trusted adult is the best way to keep them safe.

Sometimes when thinking about online safety we focus on risks such as bullying, sexting, CSE and radicalisation. However, we also know that the online world also has the ability to compromise the well-being of an individual in terms of sleep, self-esteem, confidence, peer pressure and the fear of missing out.

Daily life is now becoming online life, so other areas of risk from our world, such as gambling, are now easily accessible online and young people can find themselves getting into difficulty. Opening up conversations to bridge the divide between the internet and young people’s lived experience in their families, schools and communities can create opportunities to help.

Children and young people can also be re-victimised (experience further abuse) when abusive content is recorded, uploaded or shared by others online. This can happen if the original abuse happened online or offline.

Children need to be aware of the impact that their online activity can have on both themselves and other people, and the digital footprint that they create on the internet. It’s easy to feel anonymous online and it’s important that children are aware of who is able to view, and potentially share, the information that they may have posted. When using the internet, it’s important to keep personal information safe and not share it with strangers.

Discuss with children the importance of reporting inappropriate conversations, messages, images and behaviours and how this can be done.

Once content is posted online it becomes part of your digital footprint and can have far reaching effects in the future. Children should be made aware that online content they post now, can potentially affect how they’re viewed in the future. There is a reputational risk that posting inappropriate content online may become public and permanent. Further education institutes and companies, are increasingly checking informal information on people’s social media accounts when assessing a person’s application.

The term cyber-bullying refers to ‘Intentionally harming others online’. The impact is hurtful and distressing to those targeted and, depending on the severity of the behaviour, could constitute illegal activity.

Research suggests that around 60% of children and young people have experienced cyber-bullying. It can involve:

  • excluding a child from online games, activities or friendship groups
  • sending threatening, upsetting or abusive messages
  • creating and sharing embarrassing or malicious images or videos
  • ‘trolling’ – sending menacing or upsetting messages on social networks, chat rooms or online games
  • voting for or against someone in an abusive poll
  • setting up hate sites or groups about a particular child
  • creating fake accounts, hijacking or stealing online identities to embarrass a young person or cause trouble using their name.

Cyber-bullying can differ from other forms of bullying as it can be a constant intrusion into young people’s lives

The risks arise largely from the vast number of people both in the UK and abroad who are also playing, the minimal restrictions involved and the fact that they are not face-to-face. Because of this, children cannot be sure who they are playing against and chatting to

The risks are increased as more and more games are being played on mobile devices rather than the ‘family computer’, giving adults less opportunity to be aware of what children are doing online and who they’re interacting with.

Other risks include:

  • Playing games with an inappropriate age rating.
  • Problematic behaviour such as ‘griefing’ (aggressive or abusive behaviour in a game) or cyberbullying, involving the ridicule of other players, often by re-posting game footage onto other applications, such as You Tube
  • Addiction, leading to losing the sense of priorities and an over-dependence on their online persona
  • Increased risk of gambling and financial loss

Live streaming is increasingly becoming one of the most popular online activities for children and young people. Apps such as,, Periscope and YouNow are all soaring in popularity, which has seen other well established apps such as Facebook adding live streaming functions.

Live streaming refers to the broadcasting of live video to an audience in real time, similar to live television. Live streams can also occur in private one-on-one chats, which cannot be viewed by others.

Children may be able to participate in the stream or choose to watch. Some livestreams can also be saved and kept on social media platforms to view later

There are different risks that children and young people may encounter whilst watching streams and live streaming:

  • As streams are unmoderated, children and young people may access and view inappropriate content (such as sexual or violent videos) either accidentally or on purpose;
  • There could be hundreds (potentially thousands) of people watching a live stream at any time, including people who are looking to offend against children and young people. Offenders can then move a child from a public live stream to a private one;
  • Live streaming is ‘in the moment’; broadcasting live increases the risk of young people sharing content they wouldn’t share via a photo or pre-recorded video;
  • Children and young people may be manipulated or coerced by offenders into undressing or creating self-generated indecent images while live streaming, through the use of trickery, sexualised games, ‘fake’ or pre-recorded footage or dares; and
  • Persistent comments from multiple offenders on a single live stream can be incredibly overwhelming, and may ‘normalise’ sexualised and inappropriate requests to children.

Thinkuknow’s #LiveSkills  is a package of resources for 8-18 year olds, parents and carers, and professionals focusing on live streaming.

Sexting is when somebody shares a sexual message and/or a naked or semi-naked image, video or text message with another person. A child may have shared the image consensually or may have been coerced into it. In either scenario it is still a criminal offence to create or share explicit images of a child, even if the person doing it is a child. If sexting is reported to the police, they will make a record but may decide not take any formal action against a young person.

Online exploitation is when someone online uses their power to make a child do sexual or criminal things, either online or offline. It most commonly includes grooming, live streaming, consuming child sexual abuse material, and coercing and blackmailing children for sexual purposes.

Children are often too frightened or embarrassed to report their abuse. They are often tricked into believing they are sharing images with another child with whom they are developing an online relationship. They are vulnerable to blackmail as their abuser threatens to release the explicit photos or videos they have made in order to extort further sexual activity or money.

It is not always easy to spot signs of online abuse or exploitation. Changes of behaviour could be due to any number of factors, but there are certain changes that could be signs of abuse of exploitation. They may include:

  • spending much more or much less time online, texting, gaming or using social media;
  • appearing withdrawn, upset or outraged after using the internet or texting;
  • being secretive about who they’re talking to and what they’re doing online or on their mobile phone;
  • talking about older or new friends they’ve met online
  • having lots of new phone numbers, texts or e-mail addresses on their mobile phone, laptop or tablet.
  • talking about gifts or money they have received online
  • receiving a large number of calls or messages
  • worried about being away from their phone

Look out for things that don’t seem right – if they don’t feel right, they’re probably not.

  • Have open and honest conversations with children about their time spent online and the risks involved.
  • Educate children about the dangers of revealing private information such as their email address, home address, family members or financial details.
  • Explain that not everybody is who they seem or claim to be, and their motives may be dishonourable.
  • Tell children not to respond to bullying or other abuse, and to report it to you straight away.
  • Encourage parents and carers to join their children in online gaming from time to time and randomly. This will give them an idea of the games they’re playing and who they connect with. Encourage children to set limits for the amount of daily or weekly time they spend online.

When responding to cases of online abuse, it’s important for adults to understand the impact it can have on a young person’s wellbeing. They should:

  • listen calmly to what the child has to say
  • remember that the young person may be embarrassed and/or ashamed
  • be non-judgmental and make sure the child knows that abuse is never their fault.

It’s also important for adults to understand that online and offline abuse are often entwined and ask tactful questions when the child is ready to understand the context of the abuse. This will enable them to provide the child with the right support.

You can access advice on any issues related to online safety by contacting the POSH helpline, run by South West Grid for Learning.

Worried about a child – If you are concerned that a child or young person has suffered harm, neglect or abuse, please contact

Portsmouth Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH)

If a child is at immediate risk of harm, call the Police on 999

Childline has established Report Remove, a service that allows children and young people under 18 to report and get removed from the internet a nude image or video of themselves that might have been shared online.

You can report child sexual abuse pictures, videos or images to the Internet Watch Foundation

The internet should be a fun, safe space for children to explore, engage with friends and learn more about the world around them. However, we know all too well that this is often not the case and there are many forms of harm they may encounter online.

The Lurking Trolls campaign is designed for 7 to 11 year olds with the aim of building their digital resilience. We don’t want to stop children being online so we hope that this campaign will help children to better understand when they may be at risk, know what to do if something goes wrong, and be able to recover from any difficulties or upsets.

This campaign features a cast of grisly trolls characters to bring challenges children may encounter online to life, including:

  • Bullying and the impact of our own behaviour towards others
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Crime and exploitation
  • Online impersonation and grooming
  • Radicalisation
  • Propaganda and fake news.

The Trolls feature in vibrant children’s books and in their own cartoon series. These can be found on a dedicated website, that also features help, advice and guidance from children and their families. There are also suggested lesson plans and teaching resources available for schools.

To find out more visit

  • Lurking Trolls – campaign designed for primary school aged children
  • Think you know – produced by CEOP, this has a searchable resource library by category and age range. Each resource has a detailed description covering key aims and suggestions for delivery to children and young people.
  • POSH – The Professionals Online Safety Helpline to help all members of the community working with or for children, with any online safety issues they, or children and young people in their care, may face
  • Harmful online challenges and online hoaxes – advice from the Dept. for Education for schools and colleges
  • Gaming the system – produced by the Children’s Commissioner. Shows how children enjoy playing online and how gaming can help them to build strategic, teamwork and creative skills. However, it also reveals the drawbacks, in particular highlighting how many children are spending money on ‘in-game’ purchases
  • Childnet – resources for teachers and professionals
  • Internet Matters – range of tips and guides for parents and carers
  • NSPCC – range of resources for professional, children, parents and carers
  • Southwest Grid for Learning– this includes model template policies for schools