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“What should I do?”

NSPCC helplines: responding to children’s and parents’ concerns about sexual content online

Children and young people spend a lot of time online. It can be a great way for them to learn, socialise, explore, create and have fun. New technologies have brought huge benefits and opportunities for young people to explore the world and share the experiences of others. However, the online world can also present risks to young people’s safety and welfare. The fastchanging pace of the digital world makes it hard for adults to understand what young people’s lives look like today and how best to keep them safe from the risks.

Over the past year, we have again seen an increase in the numbers of young people and concerned adults contacting us for advice and support about how to keep children safe in the online world.

Young people contact Childline about a number of different issues relating to online safety. In 2015/16 we provided over 11,000 counselling sessions about online issues including viewing harmful or distressing content, sharing sexual content (sexting), grooming and sexual exploitation, online bullying, internet safety (including identity theft, hacking and scams) and worries about using social networking sites.

In 2015/16 the NSPCC helpline received almost 900 calls and emails from adults worried about online risks to a child. In August 2015 we launched a multiyear partnership with O2 to help keep children safe online. A key part of this was creating and launching the O2 & NSPCC Online Safety Helpline to offer free advice to parents. In the first ten months since launching, the O2 & NSPCC Online Safety Helpline responded to nearly 700 calls. The most common reasons for calling included advice on how to set up parental controls (30 per cent of calls) and how to block access to harmful sites (10 per cent).

This report focuses on what children and adults have told us about their worries about young people accessing sexual content online. It looks at the risks posed to young people online around viewing and sharing sexual content, grooming and sexual exploitation.

At the NSPCC, as we learn more about the risks that exist in the online world, we are also learning more about how to protect children from them. We believe that it is essential that we ensure children are afforded the same protection in the online world, as they are offline; that they receive an age-appropriate, comparable level of adult protection, care and guidance in the online space as they do in the offline world. It is everyone’s responsibility to ensure that children are protected online from these risks, and are supported to build their resilience and provided with the tools to manage their online experiences.

We’re working hard to address these issues by:

  • influencing industry, government, police and other key stakeholders to do all they can to keep children safe online;
  • working directly with young people, tech partners like O2 and others to co-create and develop digital solutions/products/ services that ensure that minimum standards of safeguarding young children are met, and that more children know how, and are empowered to keep themselves safe online;
  • building young people’s digital resilience through Childline interactive content and campaigns;
  • developing products, services and resources for parents, carers, professionals (e.g. teachers and social workers) and other adults to educate and support children around keeping safe online.