The internet is a fantastic place to socialise, explore interests and learn, but it’s not without risk and it’s important to be clued up about the dangers.
From calls to Childline, we know that young people are becoming more concerned about their safety online. And we’ve seen a growing number of cases where children and young people have been targeted by adults through popular apps and social media platforms.
Read more: What to do if you’re being bullied online
In 2016/17, Childline volunteers delivered more than 12,000 counselling sessions about online safety and abuse and there was a 20 per cent rise in the number of page views to advice about sexting.
Risks of the internet
The internet can also present other risks such as cyberbullying, feeling unhappy about body image and being exposed to adult or inappropriate content.
One 16-year-old girl told Childline counsellors*: “I’ve been talking to someone I met on an online dating app. We get on really well but now he’s asking me to meet up and I feel a bit uncomfortable about it. He’s quite a bit older than me, he’s in his 50s, but he says that I’m old enough for us to meet up. I’m so confused about it all because I really like him but something is telling me not to do it. What should I do?”
Stay safe online
There are a few ways you can help make sure you’re not in danger when you use the internet:
Be careful what you share
- When you choose a profile picture for a social networking website like Facebook or Twitter, avoid photos that could give people you don’t know information about where you live.
- Check your privacy settings regularly, including on smart devices like wearables.
- Think about what should be shared and what should be kept private.
- Check your location settings – some sites, apps and devices let you share your location with other users. Turning off location settings can help protect your privacy.
Think before post
- Don’t upload or share anything you wouldn’t want your parents, teachers or friends seeing. Once you press send, it is no longer private. Anything you send can be shared with other people and you can’t be sure who will end up seeing it.
- Live streaming and apps like Snapchat can feel safer because they aren’t permanent. But anything you post online can be screenshotted and recorded and if that happens it’s out of your control.
Never share or reveal your passwords
- Use strong passwords that are hard for others to guess, using a mix of letters, numbers and symbols like (like £, $, &, !, etc.). Keep passwords to yourself and change them regularly.
- If you can access a device remotely, changing the default password can keep it safer and make it harder for other people to access.
Be careful who you chat to
- If somebody you don’t know adds you as a friend, ignore them and delete their request. Don’t share personal information like your address or phone number with somebody you don’t know.
- Learn about the signs that someone is trying to groom you online.
- Don’t arrange to meet people you don’t know in person, even if you get on well with them online. You never know who they really are.
Above all, if you see something online that makes you upset or uncomfortable, talk to an adult you trust like a parent, carer or teacher.
If you’re not sure who to tell, you can always speak to a Childline counsellor. You can also talk to Childline when you’ve seen something that upsets you.
For more information about how to stay safe online, visit www.childline.org.uk, or to speak to a counsellor free and in confidence, call 0800 1111.
*All names and potentially identifying details have been changed to protect the identity of the child or young person. Quotes are created from real Childline contacts but are not necessarily direct quotes from the young person.