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Coronavirus (COVID-19): the policing response and what you need to know

Helping parents to keep their children safe online

Do you know who your children are talking to online?
Do you know who your children are talking to online?

This Safer Internet Day (Tuesday, 9 Feb), Avon and Somerset Police are renewing their efforts to support parents and carers to help their children to stay safe online.

Co-ordinated in the UK by The Safer Internet Centre, the theme for this year’s Safer Internet Day is ‘An internet we trust – exploring reliability in the online world.’ In Avon and Somerset, our experts in online child safety are offering practical advice and tips which allow parents to talk to their children confidently about how to be savvy, questioning and critical users of the internet.

During the pandemic, there has been an increase in the number of reports of children falling victim to predators who target them online, through popular apps, games and social media platforms such as SnapChat, Instagram and Roblox. As a direct response to this, our team of experts have been holding a series of webinars for parents and professionals who work with young people offering advice and information about how to keep children safe online.

Androulla (Andri) Nicolaou who works as a Prevention Officer and Coordinator on the Child Sexual and Criminal Exploitation Team, known in Avon and Somerset as Op Topaz said: “Our webinars for parents have been hugely popular and oversubscribed every time we have run them so I am delighted that we are now able to offer a recorded session on YouTube for people to look at in their own time.”

The three videos for parents cover topics including:

  • Exploitation of children online (ready to view)
  • Technical protective and safety measures available (to be uploaded soon)
  • Tips on starting a conversation with children about the internet and how to use it safely (to be uploaded soon)

Andri Nicolaou continues: “With the third lockdown upon us and children spending so much of their time on their devices at home, it is more vital than ever that parents and carers have open and honest conversations with their children about what they are doing online and who they are talking to, creating the possibility in young people’s minds that the people they interact with online may feel like friends, but not be who they say they are.

The recent reports of younger children being targeted should act as a wakeup call to all those parents who think their kids are only playing with their friends online. Are they? Do you know this for sure? Are they in the room with you whilst they are online?

“If you watch my presentation on YouTube, I go into specific detail about how you can help your children to continue using the apps and games they love like Snap Chat or Among Us for example, safely, rather than banning them altogether.

During the pandemic, Avon and Somerset Police’s specialist teams have adapted the way they work in order to continue to keep children and young people safe. The priority is engaging with and supporting child victims of abuse and their families, as well as disrupting offenders.

Detective Chief Inspector Larisa Hunt, Avon and Somerset Police’s lead for Operation Topaz said: “Over the past five years, referrals into our Internet Child Abuse Team (ICAT) have been steadily increasing and there are early signs that the lockdown and restrictions placed on all our lives during the Coronavirus pandemic have increased the number of incidents of children coming to real harm.

“Evidence published last month by the Internet Watch Foundation also suggests that sexual predators are taking advantage of the increase in time that children are spending online to groom and abuse them. The evidence suggests that more of the harmful images and content being produced is generated by children themselves, in their own homes and bedrooms.

“Safer Internet Day is a timely reminder to all of us to ensure that our children and young people understand how to stay safe online, and how to access help and support.

“You know your child best – changes in their behaviour could indicate that they are being groomed or exploited. Look for things that don’t seem right and listen to yourself – if things don’t feel right, the chances are they probably aren’t.”

Signs that a child or young person may be being groomed or exploited online:

  • Talking about older or new friends they have met online
  • Talking about gifts or money they’ve received online
  • Becoming withdrawn or secretive
  • Receiving large numbers of calls or messages
  • Anxiety about being away from their phone

Tips on how to help children stay safe online

  • Children should have access online to age appropriate apps / content and appropriate parental controls and supervision should be applied
  • Zip it – Keep your personal stuff private and think about what you say and do online
  • Block it – Block people who send nasty messages and don’t open unknown links and attachments
  • Flag it – Flag up with someone you trust if anything upsets you, makes you feel uncomfortable or if someone asks to meet you offline
  • More information and support can be found here: