Online safety and social media

Mobile devices, social networking sites and the internet are great tools to help organisations and groups engage with children and young people. However, if used inappropriately, they can also pose potential safeguarding risks and this may lead to abuse, both online and offline.

On this page we’re sharing best practice for online safety in your group or organisation.

Creating a safe environment

When creating a safer environment for children and young people you must consider online safety. You should:

  • ensure you have online safety policies and procedures as part of your overarching child protection and safeguarding work
  • make sure all your staff and volunteers know how to recognise the signs that children and young people might be at risk of or experiencing online abuse and harm
  • respond to concerns immediately
  • be respectful in all your communications
  • be mindful of children's right to privacy, to explore the internet and to express themselves
  • use parental controls on all devices (you can find out more about this on the NSPCC website
  • talk to children and young people about their online activities and experiences and learn about the apps, games and platforms they are using.

> Find out more about writing an online safety policy statement and agreement

> Find out more about how to prevent online abuse

Communicating online

  • Always use age-appropriate language in your communications and make sure all your communications are relevant to the work of the project you’re involved in
  • Use organisational accounts to communicate with children and young people via email or social media, never personal accounts
  • Use an organisational mobile or tablet to communicate with young people, where possible
  • Understand how different social media platforms work and what their age limits are – for example you should never use Facebook to communicate with under 13 year-olds. Use NetAware to find out about age restrictions on social networks, apps and games.
  • Always ask children and parents if you want to take and/or share photos of a child for any purpose.

> Listen to our podcast for more tips on communicating with young people online

Running online services for children and young people

Online services can enable your organisation to have a wider reach and support more children and young people. These include:

  • forums and communities
  • online mentoring
  • online counselling services
  • chat and instant messaging
  • co-creating apps and games with young people.

If your organisation is setting up an online service, you need to consider how you will keep children, young people, staff and volunteers safe.

> Listen to our podcast to find out more about setting up an online service for young people

Live streaming

Live streaming is a valuable way to connect with the wider community but you must be aware of children and young people’s safety. 

If you provide young people with access to live streaming media (e.g. webcams and Skype) use an open area and make sure the activity is observed by appropriate adults.

Talk to children and young people about online safety before the session starts.

  • Make sure they understand that live streaming is live. Any comments they make will be seen by others and they probably won’t be able to delete or edit them. 
  • Remind them not to share any personal information and not to respond to contact requests from people they don’t know.
  • Some live streams request donations from the audience. Explain to children and young people that they don’t have to contribute.
  • Make sure they know who to tell if they see or hear anything upsetting or inappropriate.

Whichever platform you’re using, make sure you understand the privacy settings and know how to report any offensive or abusive content. 

Never reveal the full identity of individual participants and be sensitive to the needs of those who may have child protection concerns.

Things to consider if you’re hosting a live streaming event include:

  • does the platform you’re using allow you to restrict the audience, for example by asking them to create a login and password?
  • will other people be able to reproduce and distribute your stream?
  • have you got consent for children to participate in the stream?

Things to consider if you’re taking part in someone else’s live stream include:

  • making sure you know what content will be used in the stream and check it will be appropriate for the children and young people who will be watching it
  • finding out how the stream will be used in the future, for example if it will be archived or broadcast again.

Preventing online abuse

Groups and organisations are ideally positioned help children, young people and parents gain the skills they need to stay safe online.

> Find out more about how to prevent online abuse

> Take our online training about keeping children safe online

Reporting concerns

Concerns about online abuse or inappropriate behaviour should be reported to the person responsible for safeguarding issues within your organisation.

You can also call the NSPCC helpline on 0808 800 5000, report your concern online or email us at help@nspcc.org.uk.

> Find out more about recognising and responding to abuse