It is a well-known fact that online threats from social media have negative effects on mental health and can lead to issues such as anxiety, depression, self-esteem, and body image. In addition to psychological damage, dangers children face online can lead to self-harm, being abused, being killed, and even suicide. Importance of children’s online safety is rated so highly, Ofsted now review e-safety policy and e-safety measures in place during school inspections.
Below, we look at various forms of threats and risks our children face online:
Most common and widespread danger to kids online is illegal, inappropriate, offensive, or unsuitable content for young age groups. These take the form of:
- extremist behaviour
- content advocating criminal and anti-social behaviour
- offensive content such as text, photos, or videos
- content encouraging racism or hate
Some children may deliberately search for inappropriate content, whilst the majority accidentally come across content by typing in the wrong web address or clicking on pop-ups or links in emails.
Cyber bullying is, any form of faceless malice that takes place online or through smartphones and tablets. It is present on social networking sites, messaging apps, gaming sites and chat rooms. There are a number of ways a child can be subjected to online bullying:
- Outing and trickery
- Cyber stalking and
It’s easy to take part in cyber bullying using a fake or an anonymous account and the worst aspect of cyber bullying is that nasty posts can go viral very fast and be shared by so many people within minutes.
Predators posing as children
Sexual predators can pretend to be children on chat rooms, instant messaging, or social networking sites to gain the trust of young children they target. It is possible for offenders to lure children into a physical attack or prey via child’s devices, social media, chat or online games accounts. These crimes include:
- Gaining home and school information
- Sending sexually explicit messages
- Asking to send pictures of a sexual nature
In 2018, the Home Secretary stated that the Government is concerned that up to 80,000 paedophiles could be posing an online threat to children in the UK alone.
Sharing private information
Children share their home address, phone number, school details and surname on social media platforms putting themselves at huge risk. Experts claim that some platforms provide a false sense of security that information is safe because it disappears after a pre-defined time frame. Revealing personal information on social media can expose children to a range of risks they may not have the maturity, judgement or resilience to handle on their own. In worst-case scenarios, these details can be used by online predators to find a child’s location, to befriend a child or trick them into believing they know them.
Sharing and sending sexual, naked or semi-naked images or videos of themselves or others, or sends sexually explicit messages can be seen as harmless but creating or sharing explicit images of a child is illegal, even if the person doing it is a child. Sexting is also called:
- Trading nudes
- Pic for pic
It’s easy to send a photo or message but the sender has no control about how it’s shared. Even worst, sexting can lead to blackmail, bullying, self-harm and even suicide.
Growth of the internet, has made it easier for those who stalk and harass children to carry it out either as an extension of their existing activities, or just online. This persistent and frequent unwanted contact and attention can be discomforting to a child, and can lead to distress and mental trauma.
Children can be tricked, forced or pressured into doing something sexual like:
- having sexual conversations online or by text messages
- sending naked images and sexual videos
- doing something sexual live on webcam or
- meeting up in person.
An online ‘groomer’ makes an emotional connection with the child and builds trust before talking about doing anything sexual so it’s not always easy for a child to know if they are being groomed.
Identity theft can happen to children as well as adults. Child identity theft is one of the fastest growing type of identity theft on the internet. Children’s personal details could potentially be used to open bank accounts, apply for credit cards, and make purchases. This could have a significant effect on the child’s credit reports and future opportunities. In most cases it can be difficult to prove, and even harder to undo the damage that has been done.
Privacy and online scams
Children surfing the Internet can be exposed to online scams that can come in a variety of guises like emotional manipulation, talent searches, and offers of scholarships. Children are particularly vulnerable to requests to turn over personal information, including names and email addresses or even credit card numbers.
The internet can open doors of wonder for children but as we discussed it can also be a dangerous place for them. Understanding these risks is very important for us as parents, so we can educate our children and help them experience the joys of the online world, with minimum risk.