Keeping children safe from online sexual abuse

For many children and young people, talking to others on social media and online games is part of everyday life - here’s how you can help to keep them safer.

A recent report by the Internet Watch Foundation has highlighted an alarming increase in the number of reports being made about children being groomed and exploited online.

Worryingly, this abuse is most prevalent among children aged 11-13.   

While it's not always easy for children and young people to recognise when a conversation they’re having could be putting them at risk, talking to them from a young age about how they can have safer interactions online can help to keep them safe from abuse.


Tips to help keep your child safe

It’s not always easy for children and young people to recognise when someone might be exploiting them online.

Remind them to come to you if anyone asks them to:

  • share something private about themselves, especially via image, video or live stream
  • give them money or any sort of gift, including things like currency or virtual prizes found in games
  • send them something that upsets them.

Try using our Friendships Online resource when talking to your child about talking to people online.

Start talking to your child about connecting with others online as soon as you give them access to an internet-connected device.

Talking to your child about sexual abuse isn’t a conversation any parent wants to have - but we know that having them regularly can help keep them safer.

Our PANTS resources have been designed to help parents talk to their children about this topic. Use these resources to help talk to your children about sexual abuse, online or offline.

For older children, we understand that having these conversations can be more challenging. You should try asking them open questions about what they’re doing online to help start a conversation:

  • Can you tell me about that app you’ve been using?
  • What do you think about video sharing apps?
  • Are you part of any group chats or online forums?

Look out for opportunities in everyday life to speak to your child about relationships and online abuse. For example a storyline in a TV show or news story.

Remember the purpose of these conversations is to help build trust so they know they can come to you if something happens. This can take a while, so don’t be disheartened if your child doesn’t respond straight away.

The Children’s Commissioner recently released some guidance for parents about how to talk to young people about sexual harassment and abuse online.

You can also read our advice for parents and carers on Talking about difficult topics.

Most platforms have communication features that allow people to connect in different ways. This includes social media apps, gaming platforms and other sites.

It’s important to talk to your child about what apps and games they're using. Ask them to give you a demonstration of some of the different communication features. Here are some you might want to ask them about:

  • live streaming
  • location-sharing
  • forums
  • video and image sharing
  • 1:1 chat via audio or direct messages
  • group chats.

Encourage your child to tell you before they start using any new platform so you can discuss how to help them stay safe together.

Most platforms offer different safety settings that can help manage who your child can speak to online. You might want to consider switching off direct messages or comments on their posts. Always ensure you discuss it with your child before you enable any new parental controls or settings.

You can find out more about the different settings on offer by going to the app or game website. Or check out our guides on TikTok and Roblox.

I'm worried about my son who's been using Fortnite and talking to someone he doesn’t know via chat. We've gone online and asked the person to identify themselves but they abruptly ended the chat. I've tried to explain online grooming to my son but he doesn’t seem to understand the severity of what I'm saying. We don’t want to remove it from him because he's home all the time because of lockdown and has nothing else to do. How can I make him understand the dangers?

Mother, NSPCC Helpline 

Supporting a child who's been groomed or exploited online

If you're concerned about someone your child's been speaking to online you should report it to Child Exploitation and Online Protection Command (CEOP). They're part of the police and help to keep children safe from online grooming.

Once your report has been submitted you'll be contacted by one of their Child Protection Advisors.

If you need further support, you might also want to consider contacting our Helpline for advice.

If you know a young person who has had a sexual image or video of themselves shared online, and they’re under 18, please let them know about Report Remove.

Childline and IWF’s Report Remove tool allows young people to report an image or video shared online to see if it’s possible to get it taken down. Once the report's been made, it keeps the young person informed at each stage and provides further support where necessary.

They just need to follow three steps:

1. Follow the instructions to prove their age. They may need ID for this.

2. Login or create a Childline account so they can receive updates on their report.

3. Report and remove: the IWF will review it and attempt to remove it if it breaks the law.

If you come across an indecent image of a child you should report it to the IWF immediately. If the content is criminal they'll take steps to remove it and safeguard the child.  

We know that coming across something like this can be distressing. If you need further support you should contact our Helpline who will be able to signpost you to additional resources.

Support for children and young people

Childline has many resources available to support young people. Including tips and advice on different online safety topics and advice on sex and relationships.

Childline’s Calm zone is also packed with tools and activities to help your child de-stress and discover new techniques that can support them when they’re feeling down. Young people can also talk about their worries with others on the Childline message boards.

Worried about a child?

If you're worried about something a child or young person may have experienced online, you can contact the NSPCC helpline for free support and advice. Call us on 0808 800 5000 or contact us online.

Children can contact Childline any time to get support themselves.

Get support

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