National Safeguarding Unit (NSU) - Safe Activities For Everyone

Be aware of the potential online risks to children and young people 

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Online risks 

Understanding the potential risks and encouraging safe and responsible use of the internet are crucial steps towards developing a risk management approach to keeping children and young people safe online.

“...The rapid pace of development and the manner in which young people have responded to the opportunities available to them continue to challenge the safeguarding process”
Online behaviours of adolescents: Victims, perpetrators and Web 2.0: Atkinson and Newton, Journal of Sexual Aggression, Vol 16, Issue 1, March 2010, Routledge

The Byron Review introduced a child-centred approach towards understanding potential risks based upon age, stage and the brain’s frontal cortex development and how it relates to the technology. If you organisation provides activities for specific age groups you may find this age-related technology approach a useful start to developing an online child protection policy.

"30% of 7-12 year olds and 11% of 13-16 year olds say that no one has spoken to them about staying safe online."
Ofcom, March/April, 2009

What are the potential risks to children and young people using social networking and other interactive services?

Young girl smiling With all emerging technologies there is the potential for misuse. Risks associated with user interactive services include: cyberbullying, grooming and abuse by online predators, identity theft and exposure to inappropriate content including self-harm, racist, hate and adult pornography.

The risks to children and young people face from the internet and video games were subject to an independent review during 2008 and the government has set up the UK Council to take forward the recommendations of the Byron Review Safer Children in a Digital World.

The Byron Review illustrates risks to children posed by the internet in the following grid:

  Commercial  Aggressive  Sexual  Values 
(child as recipient)
Personal Info
Pornographic or
sexual content 
Misleading info
(child as participant)
personal info
Being bullied, harassed or
Meeting strangers
Being groomed
Unwelcome persuasions
(child as actor)
Illegal downloading
Financial scams
Bullying or
Creating and

Most children and young people use the internet positively. However, sometimes they behave in ways that may place them at risk. Some risks do not necessarily arise from the technology itself but result from offline behaviours that are extended into the online world, and vice versa.

Potential risks can include, but are not limited to:
  • bullying by peers and people they consider  ‘friends’
  • posting personal information that can identify and locate a child offline
  • sexual grooming, luring , exploitation and abuse contact with strangers
  • exposure to inappropriate and/or content
  • exposure to racist or hate material
  • encouragement  of violent behaviour, such as ‘happy slapping’
  • glorifying activities such as drug taking or excessive drinking
  • physical harm to young people in making video content, such as enacting and imitating stunts and risk taking activities
  • leaving and running away from home as a result of contacts made online. 

   Young boy smiling

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Potential indicators of online grooming and sexual exploitation of children and young people

There is also concern that the capabilities of social networking services may increase the potential for sexual exploitation of children and young people.

Exploitation can include exposure to harmful content, including adult pornography and illegal child abuse images. There have also been a number of cases where adults have used social networking and user interactive services as a means of grooming children and young people for sexual abuse.
Online grooming techniques include:

  • gathering personal details, such as age, name, address ,mobile number, name of school and photographs;
  • promising meetings with sports idols or celebrities or offers of merchandise;
  • offering cheap tickets to sporting or music events;
  • offering material gifts including electronic games, music or software;
  • paying young people to appear naked and perform sexual acts;
  • bullying and intimidating behaviour, such as threatening to expose the child by contacting their parents to inform them of their child’s communications or postings on a social networking site, and/or saying they know where the child lives, plays sport, or goes to school;
  • asking sexually themed questions, such as ‘Do you have a boyfriend?’ or ‘Are you a virgin?’
  • asking to meet children and young people offline;
  • sending sexually themed images to a child, depicting adult content or the abuse of other children;
  • masquerading as a minor or assuming a false identity on a social networking site to deceive a child;
  • using school or hobby sites (including sports) to gather information about a child’s interests likes and dislikes. Most social networking sites set a child’s webpage/profile to private by default to reduce the risk of personal information being shared in a public area of the site

For further information on sexual exploitation of children and young people online see:
Home Office Task Force on Child Protection and the Internet: Good practice guidelines  for the providers of social networking and other user interactive services

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