This week’s guest blog is by Claire Lilley from the NSPCC. FutureGov are working with the NSPCC, Google and Coadec to deliver the Interactivism // Think Kids challenge: “How can we use tech to help under 18s get the most from the web and stay safe?”
Last week was Get Safe Online Week, and this year’s theme was ‘Click and Tell’, encouraging users to pass on safety tips to friends and family. So here’s my tip for trying to keep the children you know and love safe online: tell them about ChildLine’s message boards.
These online message boards are different to the rest of ChildLine: adults moderate the facility, but the content is populated by children and young people who are strangers, providing support and advice to one another in a safe and confidential space.
Since this service was launched in 2010, the take up has been phenomenal, and the level and quality of that support that children provide to one another is astounding. I have read message board threads where a dozen children have supported one child through an issue over the course of over a year, providing all the reassurance, sympathy, clarity on definitions, practical support and solidarity that that child might need. Often, there is nothing more that an adult could add.
The advice is all the more powerful because it is coming from other children – we know that particularly when they reach their teen years, young people are more and more likely to turn to their peers for support rather than teachers or their family – and more than one in five tell us that they find it easier to discuss their true feelings online.
These may be two reasons why young people are more likely to talk about self-harm and sex and relationships with other children via the message boards, than they are to talk about these things with adult counsellors via ChildLine. ‘Sex and Relationships’ is the most popular category on the message boards, with threads covering everything from sexual identity to pregnancy. And abuse experienced online is also well represented, with posts entitled ‘He asked for a picture of me’, ‘Hacker’ and ‘Is this cyber bullying?’ Here are some testimonials by users of the site:
“Everyone helps each other out and is going through the same things as me – it’s a really welcoming place”
“When I post a thread on there the replies I get are so nice it actually makes me smile. For some reason it is a whole lot more satisfying to talk to someone that is experiencing the same thing as you. Everyone on here is so friendly, the way they offer to chat and explain how they’re going through the same thing, and people do kisses and smiley faces which makes me feel more comfortable than having the counsellors speaking correct spelling and full stops at the end of every sentence.”
As an employee of the NSPCC, you would be right to assume that I am very concerned about the harm that can be caused to some children by means of new technologies. The explosion of child abuse images has been facilitated by the anonymity, access and affordability afforded by the internet, and sexual grooming and cyber bullying are all too real for too many children.
But new technologies can also help to prevent abuse and protect children, as the example of ChildLine’s message boards shows. That’s why the NSPCC is working with Google, FutureGov and the Coalition for a Digital Economy to encourage digital designers to think about child safety online at the design stage of their product development. We want to accelerate innovation in this area. See Lucy Watt’s post below for more details of what we’re doing and how you can get involved in this fantastic project.