Thursday 24 August 2023

Empowering children to recognise and report online abuse

 **Collaborative Post**

The internet has become an integral part of children’s lives, there’s no doubt about it. ONS data from 2020 suggested that almost 90% of children aged 10 to 15 went online in some form every day. With the isolating impacts of the pandemic, internet use for all ages is bound to have increased dramatically. Whether it’s chatting with friends, gaming, social media or watching videos, digital connectivity provides hours of seemingly free entertainment and activity. The last couple of generations are the first to be raised with the overwhelming and extraordinary power of the internet.

But with all this potential for connection and access to information comes significant risks. Children are more vulnerable to online abuse in all forms, including cyberbullying, grooming, and predatory behaviour.

Educating and empowering young people to recognise these risks and act cautiously is so important to help protect them. The digital world facilitates both good and bad, and it’s the responsibility of adults to ensure that the risks are mitigated as far as possible.

Understanding online abuse and its impact on children

Online abuse is a complex topic and one that encompasses many different situations. It can range from cyberbullying between peers to harassment, grooming, and deliberate exposure to sexual content, typically at the hands of an older person or group.

Abuse of any kind can have detrimental emotional, psychological, and physical impacts, particularly on children in their formative years. Low self-esteem, mental health issues, struggles with future relationships, life choices, and behaviour can all be traced back to childhood abuse.

With the far-reaching influences of the internet, the forms of abuse that children are vulnerable to have been greatly extended. Furthermore, it can happen anywhere and anytime. We’re seeing a rise in the amount of abuse claims revealed and discussed publicly, as victims become more willing to come forward years or even decades down the line.

The role of education in promoting online safety

The internet is one of the few things that will teach children unless you teach them about it first. Early education on the subject is vital to protect them in the vast and dangerous online world.

School curriculums have started to incorporate lessons on internet use. Primary schools introduce the concept and teach about digital “stranger danger” risks and how people should be treated online. Secondary schools delve deeper into the subject and teach about the rights and responsibilities of internet users, the risks of viewing harmful content, and laws around sharing and storing indecent images of children.

However, education shouldn’t just come from the school curriculum. Parents, family members and other responsible adults should lead the way when it comes to online safety. Unfortunately, some adults don’t set a good example, which surely doesn’t bode well for future generations.

Teaching the importance of reporting

Educating children about the risks of internet use and helping them to spot warning signs is just one aspect needed to keep them safe. Teaching them about the importance of reporting online abuse to responsible adults and relevant authorities is another.

Whether they’ve experienced online abuse first-hand, or they recognise it elsewhere, reporting leads to increased awareness for law enforcement and child protection systems to target. Having these conversations isn’t easy for adults, let alone children who are navigating through the digital world.

Ensuring that children know where to turn in such circumstances is crucial. Parents are the natural first step, but teachers, caregivers, and child protection officers are essential when children need someone else to talk to.

Helping children to navigate the online world safely is a significant task for current and future generations. The power of the internet for global connection and learning is staggering, but the risks of online abuse are only increasing. Everyone in society has a role to play in ushering children towards safe digital practices.

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