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 study 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
  • other people online 

Most young people are very good at spotting risks online. They also get help from family members and support from schools and settings.

Knowing when you can solve a problem yourself and when you need to ask for help is a skill for life. 

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

What is the most common kind of risk?

Schools everywhere teach children about risk online. 

Some risks, like getting spam emails, are very common. Others are more rare, but some people may be more at risk.

Things which help children stay safe online include:

  • Open conversations with parents/carers
  • Reliably reporting risky content
  • Screening and monitoring software and other alerts which signal risky content to the user

There is discussion about what the most common kind of risk children encounter online. But one of the most common risks is cyberbullying.

Find out more: The Cyber Choices website has lots of interesting videos and resources around positive, legal cyber opportunities, illegal cyber activity and more.

Content risks

This common risk can be still be very serious, and includes things like:.

  • upsetting or illegal advertising,
  • spam 
  • phishing 

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: Report scam emails to Action Fraud, and report harmful content to Report Harmful Content - We Help You Remove Content 

Conduct risks

Another very serious risk is viewing risky images or content online. Some content is unpleasant and upsetting. Some is illegal.

Viewing some kinds of content (for example violent content, or pornography) is harmful, and may also be illegal.

Find out more: There is specific support available for young people worried about sharing naked images online (sometimes called Nudes or Sexting), you can also speak to your school health nurse.

All schools cover digital safety in lessons, have plans to help students be safe and happy online, agreements about acceptable online behaviour and measures in place to protect students.

Many also have activity days or 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

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.

Getting help

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.

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. 

  • 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
  • Blackmail - where someone is threatening to show people pictures of you or 

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 is not OK. 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: People can stop doing risky or harmful things online. But sometimes they might start doing the risky thing again. If problems start to happen again, then it is important to tell someone right away. 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 sleeping?
  • losing track of time, staying up too late, missing out on other things?
  • doing things online that I feel bad about or that would upset other people?

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 many adults spend hours online every day, as part of their work.

To find out about whether your computer or phone 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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