Staying safe online

The internet is an important part of life and learning, but you should be aware of problems you might have online and take steps to be safe.
Young person sat at a table with a laptop. They are also reading their phone

The internet is full of useful, interesting and exciting stuff. It is crucial for doing homework, keeping in touch with friends and finding out about almost anything.

It is also a place where there is risk. This risk can come from the way you behave, for example if you bully someone else online, have fights, or do illegal things. The risk can also come from other people online who are trying to trick, hurt or bully you.  

Most young people are very good at spotting risks online and knowing when they can solve a problem themselves, and when they need to involve an adult or the police. 

This page contains safety information about some of the risks that you may find online, and safety tips that Oxfordshire young people have shared with us about staying healthy, happy and safe online.

Take Action: Get advice from BBC Own It and Will & Ainsley the Scottie Dogs about gaming, online diagnosis, becoming a meme and more!

Types of risk

There are many different kinds of risk online. They range from common things like getting spam emails, to serious scams where criminals work really hard to trick other people into giving them money, or personal information.

Some children and teenagers are more at risk than others. This might be because:

  • They have large contact groups, or are in contact with a lot of people they don't know well
  • They share a lot of information or seldom use privacy settings
  • They are posting content which shows them acting in illegal or dangerous ways

For these young people, checking their friend groups, adjusting privacy settings and following online safety advice can be helpful.

But everyone should know what kinds of risks they might find online: 

Content risks

This common risk can be still be very serious. Everyone has seen something upsetting online, and everyone has been exposed to advertising, spam emails and dodgy "phishing" emails which try and persuade you to part with money.

More serious risks associated with content are illegal downloading, malicious advertising which installs spyware or viruses on your device and websites which try to gather your personal information.

Take action: Keep your virus protection and other security up to date. If you do have problems, websites like Should I remove it can help you get rid of spyware and other problems,

Another very serious risk is viewing risky images or content online. Some content is unpleasant and upsetting. Some is illegal. Everyone has differences in what they like to do and see online, but viewing some kinds of content (for example violent content, or pornography) can be very harmful, especially if you are looking at this content a lot, being secretive and collecting examples or images.

Discussing risks with your parents, teacher, or another adult can be helpful. If you or anyone you know is at risk of harm you must tell someone as quickly as possible. There are also things you can do to help yourself.

Take action: Report scam emails to Action Fraud, report criminal online content to the Internet Watch Foundation,

Conduct risks

The way you behave can get you into trouble online. You can also get into trouble with other people being nasty to you online. This behaviour can be very upsetting to everyone who knows about it, not just the people who are having problems.

Find out more: about Sexting and how to stay safe online. 

In Oxfordshire, we do a Cyberbullying Survey to ask local children and young people about their experiences of Cyberbullying, what they are doing and what is happening in their school to help things improve. Schools have plans to help students be safe and happy online, agreements about acceptable online behaviour and campaigns to raise awareness such as competitions, special talks, champions and mentors.

My Experience: I think that if everyone online would really think about what they posted before they did, and of what the consequences could be, then there would be no cyberbullying and we would all be happier - Anti-Bullying Survey 2014-15. 

Contact risks

Being contacted directly by someone who wants to hurt, trick or abuse you is a less common risk. But our survey suggests 6% of local young people have been sent a message asking to meet up.

This is a very dangerous risk

Meeting people who you first met online is a normal part of growing up and finding new friends. But so is learning how to make sure that the person is who they say they are, and that any contact is safe, positive and careful.

Risky online relationships are often kept secret, and can cause very serious upset, stress and anxiety. They can lead to blackmail, and you and other people being abused or attacked.

Experience: Safe Stories has been created by Oxfordshire young people about the experience of recovering from crime. The story of Maddie and Mitchell explores the risks of making friends online and meeting up in real life. Some scenes may be upsetting, but look beneath the video for lots of useful information and links to where you can find out more. Read Safe Stories online.

A safe approach is to let an adult you trust (like your parent, carer, teacher, or another worker) know right away, even if you are worried that you have done something wrong. People who do bad things to other people online often do so again, to lots of different adults, children and young people. By reporting you are helping to protect everyone. 

You can make reports to the police non-emergency number 101, to CEOP Red Button, or to Crimestoppers UK.

Crucial: If someone is in immediate danger, for example if they have gone to meet up with someone and you are worried about their safety, treat it as an emergency: discuss with a trusted adult and dial 999.

Out of control

Sometimes people do things they regret online. This might include posting things you regret or uploading pictures which can get you into trouble.

Deleting content online is sometimes possible, but copies are easily made.

Adjusting privacy settings, requesting images are taken down or removed and putting up lots of positive content to present a good image of yourself are some of the ways to make your online reputation look better.

Take Action: When young people get old enough to start looking for part time jobs (about 16) they often "tidy up" their online content by checking for risky photographs, setting up an email address with a sensible name, and making sure their Social Networking sites have smart user pictures and suitable privacy settings.

Risks from peers

While you might hear a lot about risks from dangerous adults, most people who have problems online have them with friends or other people the same age, or a bit younger or older - peers. This might happen because of arguments, or because someone acts without thinking. It can also sometimes happen because a relationship ends or changes. Sometimes the person might be doing risky, hurtful or illegal things online to lots of people - not just you. Problems can include:

  • Cyberbullying - where someone is victimising you online
  • Online Stalking - where someone is checking up on you, or sending you lots of messages
  • Hacking - where someone is trying to break into your accounts or phone
  • Sextortation - where someone is trying to blackmail you with intimate content (this could be your content, or they could be threatening to say it is you)

If this happens, you need to take action quickly, to protect yourself and make sure that the person doing the risky thing is stopped. No matter how strange, difficult or embarrassing the situation is, don't delay:

  1. Discuss with an adult. This could be a parent/carer, teacher or School Health Nurse
  2. Tell the person that what they are doing in unacceptable. You could do this, or a friend or adult could.
  3. Take steps to change what is happening - every situation will be different, so you'll need to discuss this with the adult(s) helping you.

Sometimes you might find that your own behaviour is causing you concern. Help is available to stop you behaving badly online. start by talking to your School Health Nurse.

Crucial: Although people can be stopped from doing risky things online, they often go back to the bad behaviour later. This is because they set up a habit, or pattern of doing bad things on the internet. If problems start to happen again then it is important to tell someone right away as that person may need support to change their behaviour.

Using the internet too much?

Some people worry about using the internet too much.

There's no such thing as a ‘normal’ amount of time to spend on the internet – some people use it a lot, while others hardly use it at all. You need to decide what's right for you, but here are some questions to think about.

Am I:

  • on the internet when I should be doing other things, such as homework or chores?
  • losing track of time when I'm on the internet?
  • staying in and not seeing my friends to go online?
  • staying up too late to go on the internet?
  • doing things online that my family or friends would think were bad?
  • doing things online which make me feel guilty or ashamed?

If you answer ‘yes’ to any of the questions above, then there may be a problem.

Cutting down

Young people shared these tips with us about how to control how much time you spend online:

  • Plan your computer use - decide how much time you will spend on the computer when you get back from school and then do something else – homework, TV, meeting a friend or reading a book.
  • Close your browser windows/put your phone away - if you can’t help going online when you should be doing homework, close your browser windows, work in a different room or on a different computer, and put your phone away.
  • Take regular breaks - whenever you use the computer, you should take a break once an hour to stretch your legs and rest your eyes.
  • Take an internet holiday - pick an evening, or a day and don't go online.
  • Meet up in real life - and do something active like crafts or sports so you won't go online.

Screen time 

There is a lot of concern at the moment about how much time children and young people should spend using computers, tablets and other screens. But young people do homework using their computers, research their studies online and many will eventually go on to jobs that require hours of screen time a day. 

But some people do spend too much time on computers. Using screen late at night can interfere with sleeping, and playing games for hours at a time can cause stress, tiredness and other health problems. To find out about whether your computer use is causing you problems, ask yourself, am I

  1. Eating and sleeping the right amount?
  2. Physically and mentally healthy?
  3. Connecting up socially with friends and family?
  4. Engaged in school or work?
  5. Enjoying and keeping up with hobbies and interests?

If you (and your family!) answered yes to these questions, then the amount of screen time you have is probably fine for you.

My opinion: Young people aged 8-18 should spend less time looking at screens. The BBC website links too much screen time to a sedentary lifestyle, type 2 diabetes and heart disease , and the amount of time spent in front of screens is at an all-time high - with children having access to an average of five screens in the home and often using more than one at once, such as a smartphone and the television. In my opinion children should spend a maximum of 3 hours a day on computers playing games and having fun because they need to be more focused on education, so they can get a good GCSE and have a good job when they are older. - Murat, Oxford, 15

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