Children and social media

PCSO Rachel Martin shares her experiences as a School Liaison Officer and concerns as a parent.

Mobile technology has taken us by storm in recent years. There are now hundreds of social media applications accessible to everyone 24 hours a day. This is a wonderful thing, if used correctly.

As a mother and a PCSO it breaks my heart to see that children are using their phones and tablets to bully their peers. They are sending threatening messages, creating fake accounts, editing photos and just making horrible comments.

‘Sexting’ is also becoming more popular with young children using their mobile phone cameras to take indecent pictures of themselves and send them on to their boyfriends/girlfriends. Once they press that send button they lose control of the images.

We see instances where these images are shared among friends or even uploaded to the internet for anyone to see.

When speaking to children about why they have sent these images? They tell me it’s to impress their boyfriends/girlfriends or because they’d been asked to. It is only when they have fallen out that the images have been shared in groups or on social media.

I hear of many young girls using this as a tool to get boyfriends or for self-confidence in wanting to be liked and found attractive. This isn’t how are children should be taught to be liked or even loved. This isn’t acceptable behaviour.

A lot of the children I meet have been given mobile devices and the freedom to roam the internet with no monitoring from their parents. And as a result of their actions, some children are finding themselves with criminal records which could have a knock on effect with future employers and universities. As parents we want the best for our children so it’s our responsibility to guide them in the right direction and help them make the right choices.

As a PCSO I still see children partaking in this activity with the mind-set that ‘it won’t happen to them’.

Yes, our children should have some independence but are they aware what they are doing could be against the law?

We must also educate our children about the dangers they could be exposing themselves to with their presence on social media. This leads us on to Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) and internet safety. Many young people are adding friends onto their social media accounts that they’ve never met or even heard of before. Some might be friends of friends and some are much older. Who are our children talking to?

Don’t be afraid to speak to your children about their online and offline friends and their internet usage. It’s imperative as parents we warn and educate our children about the dangers of the internet so they don’t fall victim to a crime or find themselves becoming the perpetrator of a crime.

Check their security settings on their social media accounts and ensure they are set to the most secure. Talk to them, be open and honest about grooming and the dangers and do it regularly. I’d also urge parents of boys to speak to them about falling victim to peer pressure and falling victim to sharing and asking for images of girls.

More often we associate CSE with older males but we’ve seen incidents where people in their late teens are grooming 12 and 13-year-olds. Offering to buy them alcohol and giving them drugs and gifts in return for sexual favours.

I don’t want to scare you or stop children using the internet but we are hearing more and more reports of children being groomed on the internet or at parties, sending indecent images of themselves and engaging in online bullying, thus leading to crimes being committed.

So what are the laws?

Malicious Communications Act 1998 says that any person who sends to another person (a) a letter, electronic communication or article of any description which conveys –

  1. A message which is grossly offensive;
  2. A threat, or
  3. Information which is false and knows or believes to be false by the sender;

(b) Any article or electronic communication which is, in whole or in part, of an indecent or grossly offensive nature,

Is guilty of an offence.
The Law; Indecent photos under the age of 18:
It is an offence to

  • To take an indecent photo or allow an indecent photograph to be taken,
  • To make any indecent photograph of a child ( this includes downloading or opening an image that has been sent)
  • To distribute or show an image
  • To possess with the intention of distributing images
  • To advertise
  • To Possess such images

Further information and advice

Cambridgeshire Constabulary
Think You Know?
CEOP (Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre)
A tale of child sexual exploitation

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