Middlesex University academics have urged parents to be more aware than ever of dangers online during the coronavirus pandemic after alarming figures were released by the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF).
The university’s Centre for Abuse and Trauma Studies (CATS) issued the warning after the IWF reported a 77% increase in the amount of self-generated child abuse content created via webcams and phones last year.
CATS experts, who have extensively researched online abuse in major national and European projects, have also offered advice for parents on how to protect their children when they are off school during the third national lockdown.
Jeffrey DeMarco, a CATS researcher and Lecturer in Psychology, said: “The IWF figures show how the dangers for children online are greater than ever as parents and carers balance the educational needs of their children and workplace demands.
“We should all pause to remind ourselves of the simple strategies to promote healthy internet use by our children and safeguard them from the ever-present risks.
“Parents should sit down with their children this week, talk about the opportunists that may try and exploit their curiosity and desire for social connections and reiterate their own availability to them as a source of support if something does go wrong.
“Explore the functionality of the apps and platforms they are using together, making it an informative and joint-learning experience.
“There has been an explosion of new platforms, apps and Voice over internet protocols (VoIP) during the pandemic so it’s vitally important parents understand what their child is using and that they show they care about their child’s safety online.”
Reacting to the IWF figures, Elena Martellozzo, an Associate Professor in Criminology and CATS researcher, said: “Being online can be a positive experience for our children because they play, learn, socialise and act independent as their parents work from home.
“However, as IWF report highlights, children and young people are also at serious risk of harm, which seems to be a growing concern.
“What is particularly concerning is the amount of self-generated content that is produced by the young people themselves, from their own room, and then shared online.
“Sadly, once those images are public, it is impossible to retrieve them and remove them completely.
“Sexting can also cause serious problems because the images might get sent around or posted online, where anyone can see them.
“In some cases children are groomed, deceived or extorted into producing and sharing a sexual image or video of themselves.
“It is now more important than ever that any parent understands the dynamics of sexting and sharing images and its potential consequences.”
The CAT researchers have offered these five basic steps parents can take to improve their child’s safety online:
1, Revisit parental controls and check privacy settings on each app, platform
2, Have a discussion with children about internet safety
3, Research the apps being used by children
4, Don’t allow your children to go bed with their mobile phones
5, Look for signs of noticeable changes in your child’s behaviour
The CATS teams have also recommended these organisations, charities and support services:
Childline - a free confidential service to discuss problems you or your child are facing
THINKUKNOW - an educational website raising awareness of online child abuse
NSPCC – a children’s charity preventing abuse and supporting victims
Child Law Advice – provides specialist advice and information
South West Grid for Learning – a charity ensuring children benefit from technology, free from harm
Find out more about the Centre for Abuse and Trauma Studies: