‘We all have duty to protect children from online dangers’
- Credit: Gregg Brown
Ipswich school pupils have spoken about the potential risks they face online as experts called for concerted action to keep young people safe.
Parents were urged to know what their children are doing online as Suffolk marked Safer Internet Day.
Academics and professionals at the University of Suffolk’s annual Safer Internet Day Conference agreed that just telling children to be safe was not going far enough.
Meanwhile, pupils at Northgate High School spoke of dangers not posed when many parents were younger, before hearing from those on the cybercrime front line.
Last month, data published by the NSPCC revealed 28 instances of sexual communication with children being reported in Suffolk over the previous six months.
But dangers also include invasion of privacy, the effect of social media on mental health and exposure to indecent content.
Delegates at the conference, entitled ‘Digital Differences: A better internet for whom?’, heard about the duty of tech firms, the government and society to protect the wellbeing of younger people.
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The event was held in partnership with the county council, constabulary, police and crime commissioner and Suffolk Community Foundation.
Speakers included visiting Plymouth University professors Andy Phippen and Steven Furnell, University of Suffolk professors Emma Bond and Katie Tyrrell, and Farlingaye High School’s Penny Tyndale-Hardy on the impact of digital technology on children’s mental health.
Fellow speaker, Vicki Green, of the Marie Collins Foundation, which supports child victims of online abuse, said few cases did not involve the use of technology.
“We have to be talking about vulnerability,” she added.
“Those vulnerable in the offline world are also vulnerable in the online world. It can be young people in care, or living with drugs, alcohol or mental health issues in the home.
“It’s about parents identifying their children’s needs and doing what they can do to boost their resilience, but it’s also about professionals identifying those parents who don’t ultimately care.
“The responsibility lies with everyone around the child. It can’t all be down to the government; tech companies need to consider the consequences of launching a new app or game.
“This stuff is designed to be addictive, and parents should realise that before putting pressure on children to protect themselves. You wouldn’t take them to a road safety session and expect them to be safe; you’d still want to accompany them, so why should it be different online?”
Suffolk police supported Safer Internet Day by using the using #TogetherforaBetterInternet online and asking parents to discuss their children’s use of social media, websites and apps.
Detective Inspector Steve Corbett said: “We are asking parents and carers to sit down with their children and talk frankly about their online activity.
“We understand the great public concern that has recently been expressed over children and young people accessing content related to self-harm and suicide online, and we would urge people to visit internetmatters.org for a comprehensive range of support and advice.”
Police and crime commissioner Tim Passmore, who gave £100,000 in #StaySafeOnline funding to organisations in Suffolk last year, said: “We’ve had many of reports about grooming and violence being incited online and these threats need to be tackled now.
“It is so important that parents and carers take time to talk to their children about the dangers that the internet can pose.
“We hear so many tragic stories of self-harm and suicide being linked to information picked up from the internet so we need to do all we can to help parents and carers to help their children to stay safe online.”
Police staff investigators Gemma Theobald and Liam Gilks visited Northgate High School in Ipswich in a week when officers from the cybercrime team will be travelling the county to raise awareness and educate young people about online safety.
Among the audience were Freya Ollason, 11, and Ned Pettitt, 12, who agreed that the internet was a beneficial tool when used safely.
Freya said: “Social media can be a dangerous place but also a very safe place for people who use it to keep in contact with people.
“It can also be used to help people. There are lots of organisations that can help with mental health issues or if you just need someone to talk to.”
Ned added: “If you think you’ve been the victim of cyberbullying, you have to go to a responsible adult you can trust.”