Safeguarding from harmful influences online

The online world is a necessity for many children in accessing schoolwork and it enables us to stay connected to family and friends.

However, you may feel concerned about the content your child is has access to.

Risks associated with increased online activity

Although rare, there is a risk through increased online activity any feelings of stress and isolation may be exploited by negative influences, and online groomers of all kinds, to target vulnerable children and young people directly.

An understanding of digital safety will help parents and carers safeguard loved ones from a range of harms, such as:

  • child sexual exploitation
  • fraud
  • extremist influences seeking to radicalise vulnerable people

Steps you can take to keep your child safe online

If you have downloaded new apps, bought new technology to help stay connected, or if you or your child has signed up to a new online service you should review and adjust privacy and safety settings.

The Government has encouraged internet service providers to allow parents to easily filter content to put you in control of what your child can see online.

You can switch on family friendly filters to help prevent age inappropriate content being accessed on devices in your home.

More information is included in the ‘Further Resources’ section.

Signs that a child may be being exploited online

Online exploitation is a complex issue and so is often hard to recognise.

When it comes to being drawn into extremist ideas online, sometimes there are clear warning signs, in other cases the changes are less obvious.

Although some of these traits may be quite common among teenagers, taken together they could be indicators that your child may need some help:

  • Exploring new and unusual websites, chat forums and platforms. Harmful influences may push individuals towards platforms with a greater degree of anonymity.
  • Joining new or secret groups since isolation.
  • Speaking with new friends or being secretive about chats during online gaming or in forums.
  • A strong desire to seek new meaning, identity and purpose.
  • Using language you wouldn’t expect them to know.
  • Watching, sharing or creating films online linked to religious, political or racial hate.
  • Becoming increasingly argumentative or refusing to listen to different points of view.

Concerned that a loved one is being exploited online

The above are merely signs that they might need help, but you know your child best and you will want to speak with them first.

Check in with them and ask about what they are viewing, who they are speaking to and how they are feeling. This might feel difficult, but here are some tips to help you:

  • Listen carefully to their fears and worries - read some advice from the NHS here.
  • Avoid explanations that could be interpreted as antagonistic, belittling or frightening.
  • If they are finding it hard to cope with bereavement and grief - read advice from the NHS here.

Help available if a child being exploited online

It is important to safeguard loved ones from a range of online harms, whether that’s child sexual exploitation, fraud, or extremist influences seeking to radicalise vulnerable people.

If you are concerned that your child may be at risk of radicalisation, help is available to make sure they get the support they need to move away from harmful influences.

Teachers, healthcare practitioners, social workers, the police, charities, psychologists and religious leaders work together to safeguard those vulnerable to radicalisation through a safeguarding programme known as Prevent.

Prevent protects people from being drawn into hateful extremism – regardless of the ideology. It works in a similar way to safeguarding processes designed to protect people from gangs, drug abuse, and physical and sexual exploitation.

Receiving support through Prevent is voluntary, confidential and not any form of criminal sanction. It will not show up on any checks or negatively affect an individual’s future in any way.

The type of support available is wide-ranging, and can include help with education or careers advice, dealing with mental or emotional health issues, or digital safety training for parents; it all depends on the individual’s needs.

With this specialist help, vulnerable people across the country have moved away from supporting hateful extremism, enabling them to live more stable and fulfilling lives.

Support and advice for a loved one being radicalised

As with other safeguarding functions, Prevent is here to support families in times of need.

If you are worried that a loved one is being radicalised, you can call the police on 101 to get advice or share a concern so that they can get safeguarding support. Alternatively, you can contact your local authority safeguarding team for help.

Contacting the authorities will not get the individual into trouble if a criminal act hasn’t been committed. The local authority or police will discuss your concerns, suggest how they can best help and give you access to relevant support and advice.

If you think someone is in immediate danger, or if you see or hear something that may be terrorist-related, trust your instincts and call 999 or the confidential Anti-Terrorist Hotline on 0800 789 321.

What to do if you have seen concerning hateful content online that could cause harm

Prevent takes robust action to tackle radicalisation online and to counter the ideology promoted by extremists. This includes removing terrorist-related material and action to suspend the accounts of those fuelling these views.

Members of the public can report terrorist content they find online through the GOV.UK referral tool. The Action Counters Terrorism campaign provides more information on this.

Further resources

Check out these resources to help you understand and protect your child from different harms online: