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Last updated: 30.07.20

Digitally Safeguarding children and young people

Digitally Safeguarding children and young people

The term ‘digital safeguarding’ has been on the rise over the last few years, but what does it mean? We believe digital safeguarding means the same as safeguarding - protecting children, young people and adults at risk of abuse and neglect, with the only difference being that it is through, or on, digital mediums

Why do we need digital safeguarding?

Digital connectivity comes with digital risks, such as cyberbullying, fraud, exploitation and grooming. These risks can lead to us experiencing social, physical, psychological or emotional harm. Microsoft’s Digital Civility study found that ‘those between the ages of 18 and 34 — are exposed to the highest levels of online risk’ this was followed by those aged 35-49 and then those aged 13-17. 

As one the most vulnerable groups, how can we make sure we protect children and young people online? 

Digital risks 

In order to digitally safeguard children and young people, we need to understand the risks they are most likely to be exposed to. 

The top risks children and young people face online are:

  1. Cyber-bullying
  2. Online Grooming
  3. Gaming addiction 
  4. Sexual harassment 

Cyber-bullying 

Cyber-bullying is a specific kind of bullying which takes place over digital channels like social media platforms and on mobile phones. It can involve all kinds of victimisation including online trolling, the sharing of private photos, the sending of abusive messages, impersonation, cyber-stalking and more. 

Cyber-bullying can affect children in many ways, depending on how long it goes on for and who it is by, it can lead to visible behavioural changes. As a parent, carer or teacher responsible for safeguarding, here are some ‘signs of cyberbullying’ to look out for. 

Online grooming 

Online grooming typically involves an older person attempting to get close to a child with the intention of sexually abusing them. Although grooming can occur in real life, the internet provides a platform and anonymity, and perpetrators can easily pretend to be someone else and they have the means to exploit a larger audience. 

Children and young people don’t always understand the risks of speaking to strangers online. In an age where the number of followers on social media equates to ‘success’, children and young people don’t vet out who is actually following them. In addition to this, they often post content with tagged locations making it easier to track them. 

To help you spot the signs of child grooming, we’ve designed a downloadable poster, which you can share within schools and to those responsible for safeguarding. 

Gaming addiction 

Gaming addiction is a relatively new term which describes the action of compulsively playing games online or on mobile phones. The World Health Organization has classified gaming disorder as a mental health condition for the first time. 

Gaming addiction can happen when children and young people have unrestricted and unmonitored access to the internet. As games can now be played on mobile phones, you can easily fall into the trap of playing for hours on end, often late into the night. Parents and carers should allow a limit on the time children use their phones to help restrict access. 

Gaming addiction can lead to depression and other mental health conditions, it can also be hard to spot but here are some signs that a child or young person may be addicted to gaming. 

Online sexual harassment

Sexual harassment can be defined as unwanted sexual conduct. As the digital world grows, sexual harassment has taken on new platforms and can be perpetuated online, specifically on social media sites. 

Nearly a third of teenage girls have been sexually harassed online by children their own age, a study from charity Childnet suggests. The rise of sexting, revenge porn and unsolicited private images have catapulted online sexual harassment to the forefront over the last few years.

Sexual harassment can lead to a plethora of harm for children and young people, affecting them mentally, physically and emotionally. Our child sexual exploitation course has been designed for practitioners to help you assess the threat of online sexual harassment and how you can report it. 

How to help

There is an abundance of risks young people face online everyday. The ones we have highlighted are the main ones which can lead to detrimental effects on the health and mental wellbeing of children and young people. 

As practitioners, parents and carers, it can be difficult to spot signs, or understand what young people are facing online. The approach needed to help digitally safeguard children and young people is a collective one, whereby all those who are responsible for safeguarding work together to look out for signs of cyber-bullying, sexual harassment, gaming addiciton and online grooming.

Having open and honest dialogue of the dangers and risks of the internet is also a great way to help shape and prepare children for digital resilience. We’ve written a guide designed to help parents keep children safe online

There are also a number of great resources for schools and teachers, such as The UK Council for Internet Safety’s framework for practitioners, designed to equip children and young people for digital life. In addition to this they have resources and guidance online to help you build a robust policy within your school, including the Digital Resilience Framework.

For more information on safeguarding children and young people take a look through our courses and resources

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