The online world may be enabling greater communication and better access to information than every before for children and young people - but with that also comes great risk.
That’s the warning from experts at the NSPCC in Leeds who have joined industry figures, schools, Government ministers and police services to mark Safer Internet Day today.
The global awareness day aims to promote the safe and positive use of digital technology for youngsters and encourage conversations in home and at school about children’s online lives.
The NSPCC is currently running hour-long free workshops for parents across Leeds to help boost their knowledge and understanding about both positives and negatives of the online world for children.
Helen Westerman, the charity’s campaigns manager, said: “Children love being in the online space. To them, there’s no difference being online and offline. The technology is amazing but there are risks.
“Children aren’t emotionally mature enough to navigate all of those risks. So parents can help them navigate their online world safely.
“We know an informed child is a more resilient child, so having that conversation about ‘what if’ is a really good thing to do.”
The NSPCC workshops include information on apps and their suitability to different age groups, how to manage children’s usage of phones and how parents can be positive role models themselves.
Helen said: “We urge parents to show an interest in what their kids like to do online. We know that then children are much more likely to talk to parents or another trusted adult if they see something or get a message which upsets or worries them.”
Helen said more and more children are contacting Childline with issues stemming from social media.
These can include bullying, or children being left out of ‘chats’, accessing unsuitable apps - such as dating or gambling apps, the sharing of inappropriate images and the long-term impact of online actions which might affect future employment or university places.
She said: “Year on year the number of children contacting Childline about issues relating to the online space just increases. We expect that really. We know children are using technology younger and younger. For some people that’s great, it gets people connected, but for other children it’s really isolating and risky.”
She added: “The internet wasn’t set up with children in mind. A lot of the content isn’t suitable for under 18s. A huge number of children have smart phones – it’s the way they connect with their friends and peers – but they don’t always know how to communicate safely.”
NSPCC CEO Peter Wanless said: “The internet is an amazing place for young people to learn, create and build friendships so it’s vital their online world is a safe one. We all have a responsibility to ensure children are kept safe online so they can enjoy the positives without being exposed to risks including inappropriate content or online abuse.
“That’s why the NSPCC is pleased to be supporting Safer Internet Day as it brings tech companies, government, law enforcement and communities together to work towards creating a safer internet for children so they can benefit from the exciting possibilities it offers.”
For more information on the workshops, which are run in partnership with O2, visit www.nspcc.org.uk or email email@example.com.
Online safety advice is also available from the NSPCC on 0808 8005002 or at any O2 shop which has ‘gurus’.