Parents and carers have been warned by the Police Service of Northern Ireland and Safeguarding Board for Northern Ireland about the importance of educating children on online safety before gifting new devices and technology gadgets for Christmas.
Police revealed reports of online child sexual abuse crimes have jumped by over 80% in the last three years with many being approached by sexual predators online and across gaming platforms.
These offences include sexual assault and sexual communication with a child where any element of the offence was committed online.
The Police Service working in partnership with the Safeguarding Board for Northern Ireland and Educational Authority, have today, Monday 12th December issued a message to parents and carers across Northern Ireland raising awareness of online grooming and how to keep children and young people safe online, over the this Christmas period .
Detective Chief Inspector Kerry Brennan said: “Many children and young people will receive new devices and computer games for Christmas, but we’re asking parents, do you know what your child is doing online or most importantly, who they are talking to?
“For some children, it will be the first time they’ve owned a device that connects them to the online world. Even for older children, a new device means new corners of the digital landscape to explore – and unfortunately, new risks to be aware of.
“Along with our partners at the Safeguarding Board for Northern Ireland, we have put together some key tips on how to make sure your child enjoys the internet safely.
“These tips include; checking the privacy, location and parental controls on devices that the child uses, checking the direct messages and chat functions on apps, using parental controls and having open conversations with your child about what they are doing online.”
Bernie McNally, Independent Chair of the Safeguarding Board for NI said: “It’s the season when lots of local families are buying and gifting new devices and technology and it can be an exciting time as children discover all of the benefits of their new online spaces. While much of the interaction is positive, it also presents risk as often children can stumble across inappropriate and harmful content, and it can also be a gateway for people who wish to cause harm and exploit them.
“Often children can meet people through social and gaming sites that aren’t who they say they are so it’s important to have early, often and open conversations about behaviour and risk online, and encourage your child to talk to you if anything makes them feel unsafe or uncomfortable.
“Keeping children safe online is a joint effort and there is a responsibility on us all to help ensure that children and young people understand the risks and where to go to for support if they need it.”
Michael Kelly, Head of Service for Child Protection Support Services across Education Authority: “The sheer potential that the online world presents our young people with is truly remarkable, in terms of knowledge, education, keeping in touch with friends, and finding out about the world around us. For many young people, this Christmas may bring their first opportunity to explore the online world independently, and this brings its own challenges.
“We very much welcome this initiative from the Police Service and Safeguarding Board Northern Ireland and are happy to facilitate the sharing of this message. We appreciate that supporting our young people to be able to engage with the online world in a safe, informed and confident manner is a priority for the SBNI and all partner agencies.”
Officers are working closely with local schools, Department of Education and the Education Authority to highlight the potential dangers online, and would appeal to any parents concerned that children may be being groomed online or at risk, to contact police on 101, or in an emergency always dial 999.
Practical tips and advice have been published on the Police Service’s website here: https://www.psni.police.uk/safety-and-support/keeping-safe/protecting-yourself/internet-safety/keeping-children-safe-online