Right now our children and teenagers are socialising remotely which is wonderful because it means they are able to stay in contact with their friends and there is almost limitless entertainment. As parents juggle work, home and home schooling it is likely that young people will have increased amounts of screen time and, what they are doing online, maybe less closely scrutinised.
This is all to be expected and for the vast majority will not be problematic but, with more young people online, those who would seek to influence, radicalise or groom them via social media and gaming will be busy.
These people are clever, they will contact children via popular sites and forums, strike up a “friendship” and then encourage their victims to move the chat into a private space. The most used platforms for internet subcultures are the image boards (2chan; 4chan, 8chan and Wizardchan) where users can post pictures, films and comments. These sites allow users to post anonymously and they take a lax approach to moderating content making them attractive for those who wish to post graphic and extreme content.
When young people end up on these sites they can be exposed to a variety of cultures some of which revel in extreme racism, misogyny and violence. When hate and violence become normalised we become desensitised which is particularly pernicious for young people who are trying to find their identity and sense of belonging.
As a parent how on earth would you know if your child was in danger? It can be difficult, after all by mid adolescence the chances are that you won’t be looking over their shoulder to see what they are up to online and they will be pretty adept at hiding their history if they are looking at content they know you wouldn’t be ok with. I think it is always a good idea to ask them what they are up to online because it shows you are interested, that you care about them and this matters because they are less likely to look for a sense of belonging online if they already have one offline. This is not to say that our involvement offers complete protection. Teenagers are programmed to seek novelty and excitement without the ability to weigh up outcome, all of which makes them vulnerable.
Be interested and be observant. Are they becoming more secretive about their computer use? Is there a frantic scrabble to change or close screens when you enter a room? Are they becoming more withdrawn, using language you might not expect them to know or expressing new and concerning opinions? For many young people the initial excitement of discovering new friends and ideas is quickly replaced by fear as they feel trapped and coerced. I think we need to let them know that we are always there for them; that if they come across content which they find upsetting or if they feel they are being controlled we will help them. They need to know that we will not remove their devices but will work with them to sort any problems out and that whatever has happened they can talk to us.
Below are links to support services if you are concerned your child has been groomed or exploited online.
Contact True Vision to report hate crime – this is a service created by the police.
Contact CEOP (Child Exploitation and Online Protection) to report online sexual exploitation or abuse.
Contact GOV UK to report online activity promoting terrorism
To support your child through adolescence and help your family during this very challenging time, you may like to know that we are delivering Live Online Talks for parents and teens – including Parenting During Isolation, First Aid For Your Child’s Mind, Teens & Screens, Developing Resilience in Children & Teenagers and How to Manage Worry, Stress & Anxiety.
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