What should I do? NSPCC helplines report about online safety

Topics: Online safety

Responding to children’s and parents’ concerns about sexual content online

Children and young people spend a lot of time online. It can be a great way for them to learn, socialise, explore, create and have fun. However, the online world can also present risks to young people’s safety and welfare.

During 2015/16 we have again seen an increase in the numbers of young people and concerned parents contacting us for advice and support about how to keep children safe in the online world.

This report looks at what children and parents are telling us when they contact us with their concerns about online safety, specifically sexual content online. It focuses on viewing sexually explicit content; sharing sexual images; and online child sexual exploitation.

Authors: NSPCC
Published: 2016

Key findings

  • In 2015/16 Childline provided over 11,000 counselling sessions about online issues including viewing harmful or distressing content, sharing sexual content (sexting), grooming and sexual exploitation, online bullying, internet safety (including identity theft, hacking and scams) and worries about using social networking sites.
  • One third of Childline counselling sessions about online issues were specifically about online sexual abuse. This includes viewing sexually explicit content; sharing sexual images; and online child sexual exploitation. We’ve seen a 24% increase in counselling about online sexual abuse over the past year.
  • In 2015/16 the NSPCC helpline received almost 900 calls and emails from adults worried about online risks to a child. Three quarters of these related to online sexual abuse.
  • The O2 and NSPCC Online Safety Helpline responded to nearly 700 calls in its first ten months since launching. The most common reasons for calling included advice on how to set up parental controls (30% of calls) and how to block access to harmful sites (10%).
  • Parents contacting the NSPCC helpline were more likely to be calling with concerns about younger children. In contrast, children contacting Childline about online issues were more likely to be in their mid to late teens.
  • The number of Childline counselling sessions about viewing sexually explicit images increased by 60%, compared with 2014/15.
  • Many young people told us they felt under pressure to share naked pictures of themselves.
  • Many young people were reluctant to tell anyone about the online abuse they had experienced because they were worried about their parents finding out what they had been doing online, or felt to blame for what had happened.
  • Young people said that support and encouragement from friends had helped them to reach out for help

Related information

> Find out more about Childline on the NSPCC website

> Find out more about the NSPCC helpline on the NSPCC website

> Find out more about the O2 and NSPCC Online Safety Helpline on the NSPCC website

> Find other NSPCC helplines reports


"This service was incredibly helpful to us as parents concerned about the internet safety of our children."

Lisa – parent of 9-year-old

“The adviser I spoke to was incredibly helpful. She gave some really good pointers into all different options I could look at from a parent’s point of view. She gave me some really, really good advice, more than an listening ear, the help was practical, which was a real plus for me.”

Kate, a parent

“I have been chatting to a girl from school online. She showed me inappropriate pictures of herself. I felt really uncomfortable with it and I am scared I will get into trouble. I told her how it made me feel but she didn’t listen and kept sending me more. She laughed at me and called me names and now everyone at school thinks there is something wrong with me and say mean things.”

Boy, age unknown

“I went on this dating site a while back because I felt really alone and needed someone to talk to who could build my confidence. I met someone I liked and we chatted for a couple of weeks, but now he wants to meet up. He is being quite persistent and has turned a bit nasty now, because I’m still not sure whether I am ready to go through with it. I’m scared and worried I have got in too deep.”

Girl, 12–15

“I met this guy through social media and he was really nice at first. He told me that he loved me and that I was really beautiful. I felt as if I could talk to him about anything; he always listened to my problems at home and I thought he really cared. When he asked me to send him topless photos of myself I didn’t think too much about it and sent him a few. But now he’s threatening to post these online if I don’t keep sending him more. He’s turned really nasty and I’m scared that everyone will find out what I’ve done. I’m really worried but I’m too embarrassed to talk to anyone about it. Please help.”

Girl, 15


Please cite as: NSPCC (2016) What should I do? NSPCC helplines: responding to children’s and parents’ concerns about sexual content online. London: NSPCC.