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NSPCC reveals parents’ worries about social networking sites used by children

Published: Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Children say many sites should have higher minimum age limits


Parents’ concerns about social networking sites popular with children have been revealed, as the NSPCC launches its UK-wide Share Aware campaign to get families talking about socialising safely online.

An NSPCC panel of more than 500 parents from Mumsnet reviewed forty eight of these sites and said all those aimed at adults and teenagers were too easy for children under 13 to sign-up to. On more than forty per cent of the sites, the panel struggled to locate privacy, reporting and safety information.

At least three quarters of parents surveyed by the NSPCC found sexual, violent, or other inappropriate content on Sickipedia, Omegle, Deviant Art, and F my Life within half an hour of logging into the sites.

Those aimed at younger children, like Club Penguin, Moshi Monsters, Popjamand Bearville, fared better and parents did not find any unsuitable content on them.

The NSPCC also asked just under 2,000 children and young people which social networking sites they used. Talking to strangers or sexual content were the main concerns mentioned by children. But they also thought the minimum age limit for signing up to many sites should be higher, despite saying they’d used the sites when they were underage.

ChildLine and the NSPCC Helpline regularly hear from children and adults alike who are concerned about online safety.

One concerned adult, from Aberdeen, contacted the NSPCC* because she was worried about a young girl:
"I’m calling about a young teenage girl, who is in a relationship with an 18 year old. Last week I saw an image of her performing a sex act that had been posted online. You can clearly identify that it’s her and the image seems to have been widely shared and I think it might also have been downloaded. I’m really concerned for her."

A counsellor at ChildLine in Scotland spoke to one boy* who said:
"Everything’s spiralling out of control but I’m too scared to tell my parents. I started a relationship with an older guy online. He seemed to understand me so I told him stuff that no one else knows. I thought he cared about me so when he asked me to send pictures, I did. Now he’s really turned and is threatening to send everything to my parents unless I do what he asks. What should I do?"

The NSPCC has used the reviews to create a new online guide to help inform parents about the risks of different social networking sites used by children.

Matt Forde, NSPCC Scotland national head of service, said: "Children are taught from an early age that it is good to share but doing so online can be very dangerous. We must all be Share Aware. This Christmas many children will have been given a smart phone, a tablet computer, or a games console. So it’s the perfect opportunity for parents to have that important conversation with their children about who they are talking to and what they share when they socialise online.

"We know that children do take risks online, sometimes without realising it. And we know some parents feel confused by the internet – out of their depth, and out of control. Our Share Aware campaign gives parents straightforward, no-nonsense advice that will help them to untangle the web and feel confident talking to their children about online safety.

"Keeping children safe online is the biggest child protection challenge of this generation. Parents have a vital role to play but we want social networking sites to respond to parental concerns about their children’s safety and privacy. The NSPCC will continue to challenge and work with internet companies and Governments to make the internet a safer place for children."

The NSPCC’s Share Aware campaign is aimed at parents of eight to twelve year old children and also features two animations to be shown on prime time TV and digital spaces. I Saw Your Willy and Lucy And The Boy are engaging films with a serious message that follow the stories of two children who share too much about themselves online. Both films contain the simple message that although children are taught that it’s good to share, this is not always the case online.

The campaign will complement the new online child safety classes for parents currently being piloted by the Scottish Government and anti-bullying charity Respectme at locations across central Scotland.

People can find out more about the NSPCC campaign at www.nspcc.org.uk/shareaware and join the debate on social media by following #ShareAware.

Anyone looking for advice about keeping children safe online, or concerned about the safety and welfare of a child, can contact the NSPCC’s 24-hour helpline on 0808 800 5000 or email help@nspcc.org.uk

Children worried about online safety or any other problem can contact ChildLine free, 24-hours-a day on 0800 1111 or get help online at http://www.childline.org.uk/