Children can chat to people online, even if they don't know them. They don't always think of them as strangers, but it can make them vulnerable to bullying, inappropriate friendships and grooming.
- Talk: having the conversation
Talk about who they're friends with online, how they choose their friends and what they share. Lots of children enjoy chatting online but remind them to be careful. People aren't always who they say they are.
With younger children, you could talk about it like stranger danger. Explain the same rules apply online, and encourage them to tell you if someone they don't know asks to meet up. Talk to older children about healthy relationships and encourage them to think about what sites they visit and what they share.
Let your child know that they can talk to you, or another adult they trust, if something is worrying them.
- Explore: understanding grooming
Grooming is when someone builds a relationship with a child to gain their trust, with the intention of exploiting that relationship for sexual abuse. It can be easier online because the groomer can hide their age, gender and identity.
Families often fear that their children will meet up with online ‘friends’ and be abused. But children can also be exploited by being persuaded or forced to:
- have sexual conversations by text or web chat
- send or post sexually explicit images
- take part in sexual activities over a webcam or phone.
- Agree: setting the ground rules
Talk about the privacy settings on their social networking profiles. Agree a privacy setting that you're both comfortable with. But remember, the higher the privacy the safer your child is.
Show your child what strangers can see by searching for their name when you're not logged in. Talk about it in real life context – would they go up to a stranger on the street and show them a photo from their holiday?
- Manage: taking control
If you have a young child playing online, switch off the social and chat features. As they get older, talk about privacy settings and make sure they know how to block and report people.
The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) helps protect children from online grooming and sexual exploitation. If you're concerned about someone's behaviour towards your child, you can report this to the CEOP or, in an emergency, dial 999.
If your child wants to speak to someone confidentially, they can call ChildLine on 0800 1111 or text 80849.
Lucy and the Boy: Be Share Aware - NSPCC
The children pictured are models. Photography by Jon Challicom.