Online safety during coronavirus

Last updated: 18 May 2020 Topics: News Type: News
Introduction

­­­­­Online safety during the coronavirus pandemic

During the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and lockdown, people are relying even more on online technology.

With schools only open for some children, most are at home, away from their friends, peers and teachers. And social distancing means that they may not have seen extended family in some time. This makes being online extra important for children and young people.

Many children are spending more time online – and expanding the ways they use the internet. They may join online communities or start using new video-calling platforms. Children who receive support from services may go online to contact social workers, counsellors and others in their support network.

While all this can bring benefits to children’s mental health and wellbeing, children can be exposed to risk online.

Risks

When children spend time online they may be exposed to:

During the coronavirus pandemic, children may be at increased risk as they are online more often. Europol has reported an increase in some countries in offenders attempting to contact young people via social media since the outbreak of the virus (Europol, 2020).1

Some children may also have limited access to the internet at home. This may impact their level and quality of education, their contact with friends and wider family, and potentially affect their mental health.

To help you understand and tackle the risks all children face online, we’ve pulled together some resources, including updated information on communicating with children via social media, running online services, tips for parents and carers and advice to share with children.

Communicating with children online

If you’re using social media or messaging/video apps to communicate with children as part of your work, you must consider safeguarding measures.

We’ve updated our online safety and social media page to include information and advice on:

  • policies and procedures for ensuring online safety
  • behavioural codes and appropriate language when using social media
  • managing online communities
  • how to livestream safely.

> Read our information and advice on online safety and social media

Our podcast on enhancing online safety for children provides helpful information and advice on:

  • running online services safely
  • managing your online presence effectively
  • adopting professional and personal boundaries online
  • how to prevent and respond to cyberbullying.

> Listen to our podcast on enhancing online safety for children

Remote teaching

We’ve published information on undertaking remote teaching safely during the pandemic, which covers:

  • safety and safeguarding considerations during remote teaching
  • consent
  • contacting children at home
  • child protection concerns.

> Read our guidance on undertaking remote teaching safely

Training

Make sure you, your staff, and your volunteers understand how children use the internet and technology, the risks and harms they may be exposed to, and how you can support them.

> Take our elearning course on online safety

We’re temporarily reducing the price of this and all of our online training courses to support all people working with children.

NSPCC Helpline

Contact our free helpline if you need advice and support about a child or are worried about a child’s wellbeing. Our trained professionals will talk through your concerns and take action to protect the child if necessary.

Call 0808 800 5000, email help@nspcc.org.uk, or visit nspcc.org.uk/helpline.

Supporting parents and carers

We know that being online is a great way for children and young people to keep connected with friends and family at the moment, but being online more often can also increase exposure to risk.

For example, children may ask for their parents’ login details or use parents’ devices to download or access apps. Explain to parents how they can set up parental controls and password-protect their devices.

Children may set up new social media profiles to keep in touch with friends, family or peers. Explain to parents how to set privacy and security settings on social media to prevent personal information being shared with strangers.

Parents and carers can contact the O2 NSPCC Advice Line if they have any questions about parental controls, privacy settings or about apps and social media. Call 0808 800 5002, Monday to Friday, 9am to 4pm.​

With children using new apps to communicate during the pandemic, it’s important that parents and carers continue to have regular conversations with children about what they are doing online and what social networks, apps and games they are using. They should listen to any worries or anxieties their children may have and let them know they can always come to them about anything.

We’ve updated our information on the NSPCC website about talking to your child about online safety to include information about coronavirus. It has advice for parents on:

  • screen time
  • livestreaming and video apps
  • and social media safety.

Parents might also find our advice about inappropriate or explicit content helpful. It now includes advice on what to do if your child has seen inappropriate coronavirus content online.

> Read our online safety advice for parents and carers (NSPCC website)

> Visit Net Aware, created in partnership with O2, for information and advice on the latest social networks, apps and games

Supporting children and young people

Talking to children about online safety

You should continue to talk to the children and young people you work with about the benefits and risks of spending more time online.

It’s important to create an environment where children feel comfortable talking about online safety and raising any questions or concerns they may have.

Make sure that children know who they can talk to about online safety, whether that’s you, another trusted adult such as a parent or family member, or confidential services such as Childline.

Use our resources to help start conversations. Although these resourced are aimed at teachers they can be adapted for anyone talking to or teaching children about online safety.

  • Our Share Aware resources for children aged 5-11 years include lesson plans, videos and teaching guidance on sharing pictures and talking to strangers online.
  • The Stop, Speak, Support school pack aims to encourage 11- to 16-year-olds to be good digital citizens and take action if they encounter cyberbullying.
  • It’s Not OK is an 11+ teaching resource all about positive relationships. It includes a session about online relationships and grooming.
  • Our information and advice on how to have difficult conversations with children can help you prepare for conversations about challenging topics, such as coronavirus, and provides principles for how to speak with children sensitively.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport in England has published guidance to help people, particularly children, stay safe online during the pandemic, which may be helpful to share with children and young people. It includes advice on staying connected, staying safe, checking for reliable online information, and advice for managing screen time.

> Read the Government’s Coronavirus (COVID-19) - staying safe online guidance

> Read the UK Home Office’s guidance for parents and carers to keep children safe online during coronavirus (COVID-19)

Child-friendly information and advice

It might be helpful to direct children and young people to places where they can find out about more online safety.

Childline has age-appropriate information about online and mobile safety including:

Confidential support

Childline also provides different methods of support to children and young people, including:

  • peer support message boards, where children can talk about any online questions or concerns they may have
  • Ask Sam, where children can confidentially write to Childline about something on their mind or if they need support
  • ZipIt, an app for young people that helps them navigate intimate chats and sexting requests (for 12-year-olds and older)
  • free confidential support from a Childline counsellor through online chat, phone or email.

Access to the internet

Not all children and young people have access to the internet at home. For those who don't, it can be even harder to get support during the pandemic.

In England, local authorities, academy trusts and schools can apply to the Department of Education (DfE) for internet access and digital devices for certain pupils who may not be equipped with this technology (DfE, 2020).1

> Read the Department for Education's guidance on getting technology support for children and schools during coronavirus (COVID-19)

In Northern Ireland, in cases where children need access to technology to engage with social workers and others during the emergency period, Health and Social Care Trusts need to ensure that secure equipment is provided (Department of Health, 2020).2