Today’s children and young people have grown up with the internet and social media.
Their familiarity with technology means they do not necessarily think about the potential dangers of sharing too much information and/or images online.
You might not be as up-to-date with social media or as confident at downloading apps as your child but, as a parent, you have a key role in keeping them safe online.
Some of the inherent dangers of the internet come from people with a sexual interest in children and young people who use chat rooms and social media to get close to them. This is known as grooming – unfortunately the internet has made it easier for strangers to groom children from a distance.
Online grooming is a form of child sexual exploitation where children and young people are manipulated, or forced, to take part in sexually based activities.
It is relatively easy to monitor the online activities of younger children; however, as they grow up and spend more time in their bedrooms or away from home it becomes much more difficult.
It is perfectly normal for young people to push the boundaries their parents have set and to engage in risk-taking behaviour. One of the consequences of the internet is the growing problem of so-called sexting.
Sexting is when someone shares sexual, naked or semi-naked images or videos of themselves or others, or sends sexually explicit messages. Young people may not realise that it is illegal to be in the possession of an indecent image of a child under the age of 18, even if the other person is their boyfriend or girlfriend.
While bullying has long been a problem for children and young people, the internet has provided bullies (or trolls) with another means of tormenting their victims. Being cyber-bullied is a miserable experience for someone because it can feel like there is no getting away from the bully, even when they are at home.
Like bullying, the internet has made it easier for the perpetrators of hate crime to reach their victims day and night. The child or young person may be called names or be bullied or threatened online because of their disability, race, religion, gender or sexual orientation.
Social media also has a role to play in the radicalisation of some young people.
If you suspect a child or young person is being bullied, threatened or even radicalised online, talk to them and offer your support. Talk to their school or college if necessary.
If you suspect a child or young person is being (or has been) abused or groomed, contact your council’s Local Safeguarding Team or ring the police on 101. In an emergency, call 999.
Internet Matters and Safer Internet UK have advice about online safety.
Mencap has produced a guide for parents who are worried about keeping their children safe online.