The internet is an amazing place. It allows us to learn, socialise, play and meet like-minded people. But for children, it can also be fraught with dangers. And for parents and carers, it can be difficult to make sure your child is safe online. Where do you even begin?

Last year (2016/17), volunteers at the NSPCC’s Childline service delivered more than 12,000 counselling sessions about online safety and abuse. There was also a 20 per cent rise in the number of page views on the Childline website for advice about sexting.

Don’t worry though – the NSPCC is here to help. Whether you’re an online expert or you’re not sure where to start, their tools and advice will help you keep your child safe.

credit Tom Hull

So where do you start?

The key to keeping children safe is to have regular, open and honest conversations.

You might find it helpful to start with a family discussion to set boundaries and agree what’s appropriate. Or you might need a more specific conversation about an app or website your child wants to use.

Here are a few pointers to get you started:

Explore sites and apps together

Talk about what might be ok for children of different ages and ask what sites and apps they like. Be positive but also be honest if you have some concerns. Talk to them about what you think is appropriate.


Talk about how they can stay safe

Make sure they know where reporting functions are, how to block people and how to keep information private. Tell them you’re there to help them and they can always talk to you.


Reassure them you won’t overreact

Explain you’re just looking out for them and they should speak up and tell you if something is worrying them.


Be Share Aware

Talk to your child about what ‘personal information’ is – this might be their email address, full name, home address, phone number and school name – and why it’s important. Explain simple ways to protect privacy such as avoiding usernames like birthdates or locations that give away too much.


Discuss images and photos and what might be appropriate. Tell your child that if they’re in any doubt they should talk to you first.


What tools and support are available?

The NSPCC and O2 have produced a guide to the most popular social networks used by children. Net Aware enables you to easily find age ratings, parent and child reviews and assess how likely it is that a child could find inappropriate content.

Net Aware is available online at www.net-aware.org.uk or as an app in the App Store or Google Play.

There’s also the free NSPCC O2 advice line. If you have a question about parental controls or concern about a social network your child uses, expert advisors are available to help on 0808 800 5002.

You can even pop into your local O2 store and speak to an online safety guru. Book an appointment at your nearest store online at https://guru.secure.force.com/O2DeskStoreLocator. You don’t need to be an O2 customer.

credit Tom Hull

So just how safe are some of the most popular social networks?


Instagram is the photo and video sharing app that allows users to follow friends, families, celebrities and brands, as well as hashtags to access topics of interest. Popular among celebrities, the NSPCC’s Net Aware site says it carries a high risk of bullying, sexual, self-harm and suicide content.

It’s rated as 13+ but there are no age verification checks and accounts are set to public by default, meaning it’s up to the user to make it private. This is simply done by going to ‘account privacy’.

But even if your account is private people you don’t follow can still send you private messages, putting younger users at risk of grooming. Unwanted, inappropriate messages can be reported and blocked by clicking on the top right of the profile.



This multi-player shooter game is one of the most popular. It involves 100 players fighting each other in real time to be the only survivor. The game’s creators have rated it 13+ but there are no age verification checks.

One of the main risks in Fortnite is the chat feature that allows people to chat to each other. Players can also add you to the platform just by using your username which they can pick up during multiplayer games.

Inappropriate conduct can be reported on the Fortnite website’s help centre, under ‘general support’.



Snapchat lets you send a photo, short video or message to your contacts. The ‘snap’ appears on screen for up to ten seconds before disappearing, or there is an option to have no time limit.

There is an age limit of 13 but there is no age verification process on sign up. You can also share your location through the ‘Snapmap’ function. This can be risky as anyone a user is friends with can see almost exactly where you are on a map. Activating ‘ghost mode’ stops this.

Snapchat can be risky for sexual content and bullying. To report a snap, press and hold down the photo or video and select the red flag. To block, press and hold down the username in question and select block.


Want to make the internet safer for children? Here’s how you can help…

Last year the NSPCC launched its Wild West Web campaign to urge the Government to introduce statutory regulation so that social networks are made legally accountable for the safety of children.

Specifically, the charity wants:

  • An independent regulator that would put in place mandatory child safety rules for social networks and have the power to fine them if they don’t make their networks safe.
  • Safe accounts for children and for social networks to make it easier for users to report concerns about child safety and provide a dedicated fast-track process for reporting.
  • Detailed reporting on how they’re keeping children safe and how they deal with reports and complaints.

To help put an end to the Wild West Web, the NSPCC is urging people to sign their petition to help keep children safe online.

The petition can be signed at www.nspcc.org.uk

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