NSPCC warns Antrim parents of e-safety threat

THE NSPCC is warning of an e-safety threat putting local children at risk, and is calling for age appropriate lessons to be held in all schools from primary age.

The charity is warning that the latest research, calls to ChildLine, and focus groups with young people now show it’s beyond doubt that one of the major child protection issues facing young people today is abuse via the internet and mobile phones.

ChildLine carried out 3,745 counselling sessions last year about these issues with most callers aged between 12 and 15 years-old. A further 250 contacts were from children who actually said they were being ‘groomed’ online. And there was a sharp increase in contacts about exposure to online pornography with 641 contacts representing a 70 per cent increase for boys, with some callers as young as 11 years-old.

Whilst the best schools are already providing lessons on these issues, the NSPCC believes it’s no longer a topic that can be left to chance and it’s something parents struggle to keep up with. A recent study by the charity found that young people want peer lessons where they can share tips and advice with other young people. ChildLine is visiting every primary school in the country to discuss these and other child protection issues in an age appropriate way.

The NSPCC is warning that:

· A new generation of social media apps has opened up a Pandora’s box of potential danger.

· Sexting and hard core pornography are now the norm for many teenagers with focus groups describing it as so common it’s ‘mundane’.

· Some young people are being targeted and blackmailed or coerced into sending indecent images to strangers or peers.

· Cyber bullying is a growing and insidious problem where young people can’t escape from the intimidation and humiliation of it.

Claire Lilley, safer technology lead at the NSPCC, said: “The internet and mobile phones are now part and parcel of young people’s everyday lives. They are the first generation who have never known a world without them. The benefits are huge, both socially and educationally, but so too are the dangers.

“Young people tell us they are experiencing all sorts of new forms of abuse on a scale never before seen. It’s now clear that we are facing an e-safety threat with this being one of the biggest child protection issues of our time.

“We cannot put the genie back in the bottle but we can talk to our children about this issue. Parents, schools, technology companies, and young people themselves can all play their part. The theme of this year’s Safer Internet Day is online ‘rights and responsibilities’; we need to help young people find the balance between the two.”

Peter Davies, Chief Executive at the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, said: “Online abuse is abuse and the effects can be devastating for young people, and in some instances life threatening.

“Situations can rapidly feel out of their control and on a daily basis at the Centre we hear from very scared and concerned children who are desperate for help. With smart phones and free apps young people can easily communicate with strangers online and share images on the move.

“It’s vital children know the risks. If something goes wrong there is help out there, either from the NSPCC or reporting to CEOP.

“Parents and carers can make a vital difference in whether or not a child becomes a victim. There are dedicated educational resources and safety tools for parents and children at our site www.thinkuknow.co.uk.”

The NSPCC is using Safer Internet Day (5 February) to call for:

· Lessons in all schools on internet safety, where possible with young people themselves sharing tips for keeping safe online.* ChildLine is visiting every primary school in the country to discuss these and other child protection issues.

· All parents to access available support and information and talk to their children about this issue as they would stranger danger or drugs.** And for children to talk to a trusted adult or call ChildLine if they need help.

· Internet Service Providers to stick to their commitment to introduce a clear and easy choice system for parents to install blocks and filters.***

274 counselling sessions were carried out by ChildLine on ‘sexting’ with girls nine times more likely to contact the service about it than boys. Many young people said the problem was caused by someone known to them with ‘male acquaintance’ being the most commonly cited perpetrator. And 2,410 contacts were received about cyber bullying, a seven per cent increase on the previous year.

ChildLine is visiting every primary school in the country to talk about these and other child protection issue in an age appropriate way. We are also encouraging schools to direct pupils to ChildLine if they need support or just someone to talk to.