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Parents must do more to protect children online

Ignorance no excuse says senior police officer

Children on the internet

Parents need to do more to protect their children online, says a senior police officer.

‘Parents and carers need to accept greater responsibility and go beyond stating that they don’t understand this new environment,’ said Jim Gamble, chief executive of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (Ceop), speaking as the organisation revealed its 2008/2009 strategic overview. 

The report reveals that Ceop has received over 5,500 reports in the last twelve months, 1,373 of those were from young children of which 89% related specifically to instances of grooming. Ceop has seen an increase in the use of webcams linked to instant messaging technology to incite children to perform sexual acts.

Parents ignorant of online threats

Often, says Gamble, parents say they don’t know enough about how to protect children online. ‘Could parents do more, yes. The truth is that parents have to do more than say we don’t understand it,’ says Gamble. ‘They say they need more advice and support, but less than 3% of the hits on our website are directed at the parental assets there.’

In a bid to make it easier for parents to grasp the potential risks children face in online chatrooms and on social networking sites Ceop has released an educational podcast, and a video cast. These are available via Ceop’s website as well as from iTunes and YouTube

Reporting inappropriate behaviour

One of Ceop’s aims is to make it easier for children to report inappropriate behaviour online. Just under half of incidents reported to Ceop (2500) during 2008/09 were sent using the Ceop Report button. 

Chatrooms and other online sites that attract a lot of young people can add the button to their websites allowing children to report abusive behaviour directly to Ceop. 

However, to date Gamble says that none of the major social networking sites have added the button to their sites. 

‘We look to Ceop as experts in child exploitation and online protection and are working with them to ensure the site is as safe and secure as possible. At the same time, we are concerned that a mandated reporting link would limit the possibilities for innovation in safety and reduce our content standards, which far exceed the legal definitions of abuse, to only the prohibitions codified in the law,’ said a statement from Facebook

Gamble disagrees: ‘There are a number of red herrings espoused by social networking sites on why it’s too difficult to put the [Ceop Report] button on. It’s free and is designed to occupy as small a space as possible,’ he said.

Educating parents

In the meantime, says Gamble, it’s down to parents to ensure children are aware of the risks.

‘There is a danger that each year we and many others appear to be saying the same thing. Offenders use the internet, children put themselves at risk and parents and carers remain oblivious. Have we reached saturation point of safety advice or are we being intimated and seduced by the complexity of the technology?’ said Gamble.

‘Parents and carers need to accept greater responsibility and go beyond stating that they don’t understand this new environment. We simply do not see evidence of parents using the resources we offer. The advice you need is there so please use it. It is user friendly and accessible from ceop.police.uk, iTunes, and CEOP’s YouTube Channel,’ he continued.

The advice follows a similar initiative from Ofcom last week, which stated that 23% of children said no-one had spoken to them about how to stay safe online.

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