Today’s children are far more tech-savvy than ever before and have unparalleled access to the internet via computers, smart phones, TVs and tablets. The Internet had not even been invented when most of us were young, let alone social media. Both have opened up many more opportunities but all great risks.
While the internet provides access to a world of new information and points of view, it also exposes young people to very real harms. Often children are left to access the internet without any supervision or controls and it can lead to danger from predators, inadvertent exposure to graphic images and other online threats. In fact social media is one factor attributed to contributing the increase of teen suicide and self-harming. So much time is now spent online that keeping children safe as well as enabling them to ‘stay children’ is paramount.
Parental controls are a great starting point – such controls can be used to block upsetting or harmful content, control in-app purchases or manage how long children spend online. Research tells us that having a supportive parent or carer makes a huge difference in helping a young person learn to stay safe online.
Parental controls can only go so far and Parliament and authorities must play a role in strengthening the law, detecting online abusers and smashing organised paedophilia crime rings. The latest figures showed that throughout 2015 over 500 children in Wiltshire were victims of online abuse and became the subject of a child protection plan. Estimates from the NSPCC suggest that for every child identified as needing protection from abuse, another 8 are suffering abuse because they may be too young, too scared or too ashamed to tell anyone about what is happening – potentially over 4000 children in our county.
On Monday, following much previous hard work from Devizes MP Claire Perry on this issue, I questioned Home Office Ministers about how we can improve online protections and enhance the Child Abuse Image Database, which launched a little over a year ago and uses the latest technology to improve how the authorities deal with images of Child Sexual Exploitation and Abuse.
On top of protecting children from being able to access inappropriate material, there is more to be done to educate them about the dangers of the internet at school and via the National Crime Agency’s dedicated website Thinkuknow.co.uk and I urge all parents and carers to take a look at that website for practical advice on keeping our kids safe. You don’t need to be a technical expert, the information is easy to follow and help is available to get started. Although no solution can be 100 per cent effective, rest assured that I will continue to push the Government to do all it can to protect our young people online.