Why is this a bigger issue right now?

Harmful sexual behaviour in children and young people is especially important during the extraordinary times of the coronavirus pandemic where many families have had to isolate together in lockdown conditions.

Families, both adults, and children are spending more time online; this has been vital to staying connected to family, friends, and loved ones, and has been positive for people’s mental health. Unfortunately, there remain some risks to being in a closed environment with certain family members, and also to being online, especially for children and young people.

That’s why we’ve made a guide for parents, carers and professionals to help everyone do their part in keeping children safe. You can read through the guide on our site or it is available to download in English or Welsh.

Increased use of the internet

Parents and carers might be worried about how much time their children are spending online, what they are doing, and who they are connecting with. Some might be worried about older children spending a lot of time alone in their rooms or younger children engaged in more unsupervised playtime.

Parents and carers might be wondering if their children are completely safe, and what they can do to protect them better.

Dangerous online behaviours

Ofcom has recently reported that online use has increased dramatically since coronavirus has forced everyone to stay at home. Adults in the UK are thought to be spending more than a quarter of their waking day online, and there has been a surge in services such Zoom as people try to stay connected, and the use of sites such as Snapchat, YouTube, Instagram and TikTok are being used by almost all older children aged 8-15.

Concerns about these platforms include children and young people accessing harmful and age-inappropriate content and receiving unwanted sexual messages. The Internet Watch Foundation has reported that they have blocked at least 8.8 million attempts by UK internet users to access videos and images of children suffering sexual abuse during lockdown.

Since we know that a third of those who have engaged in abusive or harmful sexual behaviour are themselves under the age of 18, it is important for parents and carers to consider whether their own children could be responsible for engaging in any of these behaviours either in person or online.

How to keep children safe

The government’s measures to respond to the coronavirus pandemic have put increased pressures on families, especially where parents are juggling work commitments alongside their children’s educational and welfare needs. This could mean that unsupervised play, both in-person and online may have increased, and young people might be spending more time alone online.

Parents and carers need to be mindful of the behaviours their children are engaging in, both with siblings for example, or online – whether that be inappropriate touching, or creating harmful online content, such as sending indecent messages.

By giving parents and carers the right information and support, they can be equipped to address any concerns they might have, and take positive steps to prevent harmful sexual behaviour from happening in the first place.

The next page will provide you with tips on how to create a safe home environment for your family, showing them where they can go for advice and support.

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