Reluctance to broach online safety threatens to leave children unprepared for online world

O2 and NSPCC launch partnership to help parents support their children online

Thursday 27th August. O2 and the NSPCC today announce a new online safety partnership as new research reveals thousands of children are potentially missing out on vital online advice and support at a crucial time in their development.

The YouGov survey of more than 2,000 parents of children aged 8 to 13 suggests a worrying ‘digital delay’ as parents may be postponing conversations with their kids about staying safe online. The findings reveal that although 91 per cent of eight year olds use the internet at least once a week, on average parents think that children should be at least nine before their parents tackle issues of online safety with them.*

The research, also highlights a contradiction in the way parents approach online and offline welfare and safety issues. On average, parents thought it was right to talk to kids about everyday ‘real world’ issues such as stranger danger and bullying from age seven. However, when it comes to similar issues online, such as chatting to strangers on the web or cyber-bullying, on average parents felt that these conversations could wait until their children are at least nine*.

To ensure parents can access the practical advice and support they need to help their children stay safe online, O2 and NSPCC have teamed up to launch a ground-breaking partnership which will provide free one-on-one expert technical advice to parents via a dedicated new helpline, as well as interactive workshops delivered in workplaces and schools up and down the country.

And, importantly for the hundreds of thousands of children that contact ChildLine every year – O2 will also zero-rate ChildLine online, making it free for children and young people to get the help and support they need – even if they don’t have credit on their mobile phones.

Ronan Dunne, O2 CEO said: “While the internet is driving economic growth and positively transforming the way we live and work, the simple truth is that, like the ‘offline’ world, the online world comes with risks attached. Risks that need to be acknowledged and faced. Although progress has been made in ensuring young people receive practical online safety advice, our research and experience also suggests that more needs to be done to help parents, particularly those who don’t feel as confident supporting their children in the fast-changing digital world.

“That’s why today we are launching an ambitious partnership with the NSPCC to give parents free expert personalised advice to build their digital competence to help keep their children safe online. It is our hope that this partnership will help parents and their families to make the most of the wonders of the web, safely.”

NSPCC chief executive, Peter Wanless said : “Sadly we know that children up and down the country are struggling because of difficult experiences online. Thousands of young people contact us about issues such as online grooming, cyber bullying and after viewing sites which encourage eating disorders, self-harm and suicide. We need to ensure they are equipped with the necessary skills to protect themselves.

“This is a 21st century problem that will not go away and we need a real focus on teaching young people about staying safe on the internet which, is why we are joining forces with O2. Together we want to help parents recognise that for their children there is often no distinction between the online and offline world. Through our new helpline, workshops and online hub we want to encourage parents to learn more about what they can do to help keep their children safe. We hope that this partnership is just the start and that others will follow suit.”

Baroness Joanna Shields, Minister for Internet Safety and Security , said: “Growing up has never been easy but today the virtual world presents a whole new set of risks which are all too unfamiliar to parents. The challenge of keeping children safe online requires the full support and cooperation of parents, industry, charities and the government. We welcome the NSPCC and O2 partnership which brings together experts on the technology our children use with those who understand the way they use it.

“Government takes safety online seriously and we are standing alongside parents to make sure the internet is safer for children to explore, learn and create fearlessly.”

The digital delay explained

When it comes to what’s behind the digital delay identified by the survey – a significant number of parents expressed concern about the emotional implications of talking to their kids about online safety before they’re ten years old:

  • Of the parents who think children should be 10 years or older to initiate conversations about online safety, nearly four in ten parents (39%) felt they would be too young to understand the issue
  • Just over a quarter (26 %) of these parents believe the nature of the conversation would scare or upset them too much.

Surprisingly, almost one in 10 (9%) admit they don’t see the need for parents to ever proactively talk about cyber bullying, and 11% don’t think parents should ever initiate a conversation about viewing age appropriate content online.

The study also highlighted that confidence in dealing with online issues could be key:

  • Nearly a third (31%) of all parents admitted they would refer their child to another adult or sibling if they asked them questions about an issue they’d encountered online
  • While one in six (16%) admitted they’re more confident giving advice to their child about staying safe in ‘real life’ compared to staying safe online.

Even though a quarter (26%) of those parents who acknowledge feeling less confident about staying safe online don’t believe they have the technical knowledge to give their child practical advice it’s clear from the survey that the current generation of digital natives genuinely value guidance from their parents. Of the 1,000 children surveyed whose parents had ever talked to them about online safety, nearly two thirds (60%) said that they had modified their online behaviour as a result.

The new partnership between O2 and the NSPCC is designed to give parents the tools, support and information they need to help their children explore the internet safely. The partnership includes:

  • A dedicated new free joint helpline designed to help parents to navigate the digital world safely. The free helpline will be staffed by NSPCC-trained O2 tech-experts who will be able to give parents the technical advice they need to get the most out of the internet, including how to set privacy settings and parental controls.
  • Free interactive workshops in schools and workplaces from January 2016 to help parents brush up their digital skills and expertise. Run by O2 tech experts, and NSPCC staff, the workshops will equip and empower parents with the skills they need to have impactful conversations with their children about how to safe online.
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