Wednesday, 21 March 2018
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June 2017

Safety Net

Mairead Monds Childline Manager for NI, talks online safety for parents and where to find out what you really need to know...

With new research suggesting that parents are now more worried about children being bullied over social media than face-to-face, and daily reports in the media of concerns over popular apps aimed at the under 16s, for parents, the online world can be a minefield with social media in particular often an alien concept. Yet our children are ‘digital natives’ and for them, online life is real life, and social media is engrained into their everyday world. From the more widely-known Facebook and Snapchat, to some of the more recent apps including Pokémon GO and, it can be difficult for parents to keep up to date with the social media platforms of the moment and, most importantly, how to make sure they are safe.

Social media is a great way for young people to stay in touch with their friends but recent research conducted by the NSPCC and O2 found that four out of five children don’t think social media companies are doing enough to shield them from upsetting, dangerous, and adult content. This research is backed up by the experiences of the counsellors on our Childline service.
Last year alone, Childline counsellors carried out over three hundred sessions with children from Northern Ireland because of bullying, including online bullying, and 164 counselling sessions about online sexual abuse – including sexting and viewing distressing sexually explicit content. 
We know that our children want help navigating social media safety and the NSPCC wants social media companies to do more to protect our children when they are using their platforms, apps or games. We need to see more scrutiny of these companies, and believe that social media sites should offer specially designed accounts with heightened privacy settings and content filters to protect young people. However, we understand the reality is that parental controls aren’t fool-proof and age restrictions can be tricked or bypassed. 

It is vital that parents know about their child’s online world, and opening those lines of communication and talking to children from an early age can be invaluable. If your children grow up feeling able to talk about their online journey, and know that you will be there if they need help, then you’ll have already made huge strides towards keeping them safe.
The internet moves at breakneck speed and it will never be the easiest topic to navigate, but there are a range of tools to help:

Net Aware (find at is a simple guide for parents on the top apps and sites that children use. It includes information on age restrictions, risks and how to report unsuitable content. The NSPCC worked with YouGov to find out what hundreds of parents and young people thought about the social networks children use, and as a result have provided this comprehensive guide to arm parents with the key information they need to understand their child's online world, hopefully giving you confidence to have regular and informed conversations about what your child is doing online – just as you would about their day at school.

Try the simple TEAM approach:
•Talk about staying safe online.
•Explore their online world together.
•Agree rules about what’s okay and what isn’t.
•Manage your settings and controls.
The Share Aware Guide on the NSPCC website is there to help parents and children untangle the web and to teach kids to be as aware of digital safety as they would about crossing the road or talking to a stranger. Share Aware gives you the tools and confidence to have regular and informed chats with your child to help them get the best out of the internet while agreeing boundaries. The resources also include a six-week icebreaker email series, practical conversation starters and a range of simple animations including a brilliant new one “Safety advice from a 10-year-old” voiced by comedian, actress and mum, Catherine Tate.

Some children may not be ready to talk to their parents about every issue they face so to start the conversation you might like to;
1 Explore sites and apps together and talk about any concerns.
2. Ask your child if they know how to stay safe online.
3. Talk about personal information and what it is okay to share online.
4. Ask them about things they might see online which make them feel uncomfortable.
5. And finally, creating a family agreement is a great way to start talking about online safety.
Remember, Childline provides a safe and confidential place for children if they need help and is open 24 hours a day on Tel: 0800 1111 or at

The free adult helpline provides parents and carers with a place they can get advice and support, share their concerns about a child or get general information about child protection. Adults can also contact the helpline 24 hours a day on Tel: 0808 800 5000.

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