Whilst most of us are locked down in our homes, there may be a tendency to think that simply because we know exactly where they are, our children and young people are somehow safer. Sadly, the truth is they might not be.

We know children are spending more time online than ever before. They may be tempted to join groups, share intimate images and participate in livestreaming activity as they attempt to build their own online audience. These audiences will undoubtedly include their real friends, friends of their friends who they don’t really know and complete strangers. Many will use the most popular livestreaming apps such as Instagram Live, Facebook Live, HouseParty, YouTube and Twitch. We’ve also seen a huge rise in the use of HouseParty, an increase of 122% in adults/children using the app this week alone.

I don’t want to scaremonger or create the impression there is a predator waiting in every virtual space, but the current reality is unprecedented. We can’t ignore the fact that sex offenders are also sitting at home and most will access the internet. Only by educating and empowering young people, can we begin to protect them from harm. In order to do that we need to practice what we preach and educate ourselves.

From my years of experience as a police officer,building and leading CEOP in its formative years, as the CEO of the INEQE Safeguarding group and as Chair of a number of Safeguarding Children Partnerships across London I am all too well aware of the serious risks posed to children by online livestreaming. This is one of the reasons we created the Safer Schools App in partnership with Zurich Municipal back in 2018 and why we carried out this recent survey to establish what impact the lockdown is having on children’s online activity.

Our research shows that young people who livestream are twice as likely as their peers to engage in potentially dangerous online behaviour. Livestreaming, which involves broadcasting live video over the internet, is one of the riskiest activities for children online, as this type of broadcast is public, can expose children to inappropriate content and is extremely difficult to moderate. The increase in this trend can be attributed to the pressure of performing live to an anonymous audience. It encourages children to do things they wouldn’t normally do in other circumstances because they are ‘in the moment.’

We know that children as young as seven are now spending almost three hours a week on average broadcasting live videos of themselves, with 15% livestreaming themselves at least once a week. Two fifths (40%) of children livestream to an audience of strangers but this is set to increase over the coming weeks with almost a fifth planning to start now that schools are closed.

I appreciate this is a really challenging time for parents, as they struggle to balance work and childcare duties on top of home schooling. It’s to be expcted that children will probably spend a lot more time on devices. That’s why it’s crucial to sit down together and chat through the risks We know around a tenth of children normally chat to strangers online but this trend doubles amongst livestreamers. Talking about the dangers of inviting strangers into your bedroom, albeit virtually, is so important from a young age.

The following practices can help, parents and carers to minimise the risk to children online:

Take advantage of having all your family in one place and do three relatively simple things:

1. Make your home safer – ensure you are using the best possible settings provided by your Internet service provider. You can access these by searching for them by name and adding the phrase, safety settings e.g. BT safety settings

2. Make sure all the devices you use have the most appropriate safety settings. Visit Our Safety Centre to check.

Visit Our Safety Centre

3. Talk: Talking is the most important tool in a parent or carers child protection tool kit.

Jim Gamble QPM is the Chief Executive of the INEQE Safeguarding Group, which incorporates Our Safer Schools Partnership.  He was the founding CEO of the Child Exploitation & Online Protection (CEOP) Centre & currently chairs a number of Safeguarding Children Partnerships. @JimGamble_INEQE