How to keep young people safe online

Aside from improving our own knowledge of online safety, the best that we can do is empower our young people to mitigate risk for themselves.

Recently, we have been in schools all over London talking to young people about social media and online safety.

Online spaces are brilliant for young people to socialise, learn, stay informed and entertained, and we always have this in mind when we work with young people. Our aim is never to scaremonger or to encourage young people to opt out of using of social media completely. However, it is crucial that young people know how to protect themselves, and understand the risks such as grooming or exploitation.

It’s comforting to learn that, in many cases, young people do have a good awareness of online risk and have the know-how to stay safe. If not, it becomes the role of parents, carers, and professionals to have open conversation with young people, and advise them on how to stay safe.

What do we need to know to safeguard young people?

It seems as though much of our conversation with parents and carers, teachers and professionals is centred on social media and online safety. Practitioners are often wary of new challenges and new developments in online technology: it seems we are not always as tech-savvy as our young people! Although this is perhaps unsurprising, it presents a problem when we consider our safeguarding responsibilities.

We find that Snapchat and Instagram are two of the most popular apps used by 11-14 year olds at the moment. Both, without proper privacy settings applied, can enable strangers to ‘follow’, befriend, and contact young people. Further, Snapchat conversations disappear after 10 seconds or less, and practitioners often tell us the difficulty of reporting and evidencing claims of harassment, because there is no permanent record of Snapchat conversations.

To combat this as best we can, we advise that parents, carers, and professionals educate themselves on what apps are on their young peoples’ phones, laptops and tablets. We advise an understanding of the risks, and how to apply privacy settings. Most importantly, we advise parents, carers and professionals to keep an open dialogue with young people so that they are prepared to share and talk about what they are exposed to.

Aside from improving our own knowledge, the best that we can do is empower our young people to mitigate risk for themselves. Working directly with young people in our schools workshops has helped us to develop some general guidelines to help young people stay safe online. Though simple, they are a great starting point to make sure young people are doing everything they can to protect themselves. We would encourage you to share these with the young people you work with, particularly those who are using social media or mobile devices for the first time.

Online safety tips for young people

  1. Don’t post any personal information online, including pictures that might give away where you live or where you go to school.
  2. Think carefully before posting pictures or videos of yourself. Once you’ve put a picture of yourself online, people can see it and may be able to download it, it’s not just yours anymore.
  3. Don’t befriend people you don’t know.
  4. Don’t meet up with people you’ve met online. Speak to your parent or carer or a trusted adult if someone suggests you do.
  5. If you see something online that makes you feel uncomfortable, unsafe or worried: leave the website or app, report it if you can, and tell a trusted adult immediately.

Interested in finding out more?

This advice is a solid starting point, but really just the tip of the iceberg. If your or your team would like to find out more about keeping young people safe online, please get in touch with our Training team on training@saferlondon.org.uk or 020 7021 0301.

We also offer a full suite of training options based on issues that are affecting young people: county lines, gangs, safeguarding, child sexual exploitation and understanding harmful sexual behaviour. Get in touch with the team to find out what we can do for you.