Children can face a number of risks online which include accessing inappropriate websites, losing control over pictures and videos, giving away personal information and communicating with strangers.
Online communication poses further risks concerning sexting, online bullying and grooming. Sexting is the sending of inappropriate or indecent images via mobile technology. Control over these images is lost once sent.
Online grooming is communication with the ultimate aim of meeting up to form a sexual relationship or persuading a child to perform sexual acts on webcam. Bullying online is also a risk and causes distress and fear to children and young people.
Internet Safety Officer for the Safe Schools and Communities Team (SSCT) Mark Howell advises parents to take an interest in their children’s online activities, and suggests that parents encourage their children to show them how the websites they are using work.
Mark Howell said: “Discuss the risks and benefits of these sites. Children should know that if they are worried, they can talk to their parents or another appropriate adult.
“Parents need to be alert for the signs of online grooming or cyber bullying. Your child may be more private and secretive than usual. They may minimise screens, not engage with the family and spend long amounts of time on their mobile device or take the device to their bedroom.”
SSCT run courses in educational establishments, and educated just over 33,000 young people aged 5 to 16 plus last year in internet safety. These courses include messages about keeping personal information safe, and encouraging young people to consider safe social networking and responsible online behaviour.
The Safe Schools and Communities Team also hold classes for parents, delivering internet safety sessions. Parents can either contact schools or Dorset Police direct on 101 for more information on these.
Dorset Police also have a newly formed dedicated team to investigate reports of online child abuse, working with the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) and partner agencies to safeguard children. The Paedophile Online Investigation Team (POLIT) are committed to targeting and bringing to justice those in Dorset who are sexually exploiting children over the internet.
Deputy Head of Public Protection Chief Inspector Chris Naughton said: “The internet can be a fantastic place for children and young people, where they can talk to friends, be creative and have fun. However, just like in the real world sometimes things can go wrong. I would urge parents to visit the CEOP website for up to date advice on how to keep their children safe online.”
If parents think that their child has been affected by their online communications they are urged to either contact the police on 101, report their concerns via CEOP or use one of the many reporting portals on social media sites.