With children and young people’s use of technology ever increasing, the potential for online exploitation is a risk of which we all need to be aware. Although rare, there is a risk that with increased online activity, feelings of stress and isolation may be exploited. An understanding of digital safety will help parents and carers safeguard loved ones from a range of harms, whether that’s child sexual exploitation, fraud, or extremist influences seeking to radicalise vulnerable people. Extremists may also try to promote hateful views, for example through conspiracy theories or through spreading misinformation.
What are the signs that my child may be being exploited online?
Online exploitation is often hard to recognise because it is a complex issue. When it comes to being drawn into extremist ideas online, sometimes there are clear warning signs, in other cases the changes are less obvious.
Although some of these traits may be quite common among young people, taken together they could be indicators that your child may need some help:
Exploring new and unusual websites, chat forums and platforms. Harmful influences may push individuals towards platforms with a greater degree of anonymity.
Joining new or secret groups.
Speaking with new friends or being secretive about chats during online gaming or in forums.
A strong desire to seek new meaning, identity and purpose.
Using language you wouldn’t expect them to know.
Watching, sharing or creating films online linked to religious, political or racial hate.
Becoming increasingly argumentative or refusing to listen to different points of view.
What steps can I take to keep my child safe online?
The above are merely signs that they might need help, but you know your child best and you will want to speak with them first. Check in with them and ask about what they are viewing, who they are speaking to and how they are feeling. This might feel difficult, but these conversations are important.
Here are some pointers to help you keep your child safe online:
Listen carefully to their fears and worries.
Review and adjust privacy and safety settings if you or your child is signing up to a new online service.