We are all spending more time online than ever before and online predators are taking advantage and finding new ways to contact, manipulate and coerce young and teenage girls into sharing sexual images or videos of themselves. At the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), we have seen an alarming rise in self-generated online sexual abuse cases; in 2020, we found 68,000 cases of self-generated child sexual abuse, which is a massive 77% increase on 2019. The vast majority, 80%, of these cases involve girls aged 11-13 years old, and in some cases, a child is live streaming and unaware that they are being recorded. It is a horrible crime and, as parents, we need to do everything in our power to prevent our own children from becoming victims, without denying them the fun and entertainment that safe use of the internet undoubtedly offers.
So, I am asking you to please T.A.L.K openly with your young and teenage daughters about the dangers of the internet. There is no denying that the threat of self-generated online sexual abuse can be a difficult topic to broach with your children, which is why we have launched our Home Truths campaign.
Along with a dedicated website that hosts useful resources and information, the campaign gives you the easy to remember T.A.L.K acronym, to support you in having one of the hardest, but most essential, conversations with your daughters:
Talk to your daughter about online child sexual abuse; start the conversation and listen to their views and concerns. Pick your moment carefully, talking about sex can feel awkward. It is easy to bury your head in the sand – no one wants to talk about, let alone consider, something as shocking as sexual abuse. You are not alone in feeling this way – there are many parents and carers who do not feel confident in broaching this topic. However, talking about it could make the difference between your daughter being safe or not. Be honest, in an age-appropriate way, by giving as much or little detail about why this conversation is so essential.
Agree ground rules on the way you use technology as a family. You can’t have control over everything your daughter does or how she behaves on the internet, but setting expectations can help her to go online positively and safely. For example, agree that your daughter will always have the door open when using devices and that all devices will remain downstairs at bedtime.
Learn about the platforms and apps your daughter loves to use. For this generation there is no longer a clear line between their online and offline lives, so it is important to take an interest in your daughter’s online activity, even if the apps she is using may seem pointless or juvenile. When talking to your daughter, always try to avoid being judgemental or dismissive; keeping communication open is key. Break down barriers by showing your daughter which apps or platforms you like to use, and by exploring the apps she enjoys with her, this will help her to feel more relaxed about sharing her life on social media with you.
Know how to use tools, apps and most importantly, their settings; this will help you to keep your daughter safe online. You may already have set controls on your daughter’s internet use but it can be difficult to keep up with new platform innovations, so it is always worth spending time looking at which other or new controls are available. Discuss and agree on the privacy setting for the platforms and apps your daughter uses, reminding her that you aim is to keep her safe, not to control her social life!
Following the above steps will help you to empower your daughter to say “no” to online predators who may be making inappropriate requests. She should never feel pressured into sharing pictures or videos of herself. Resources to help your daughter feel confident to take control of her online safety can be found on the Gurls Out Loud website.