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How can I keep my child safe from sextortion?

| 09 Feb 2024

Technology plays an integral role in our daily lives. Because of this, parents are facing the growing challenges of guiding their children through the complexities of online interactions.

One particularly concerning aspect is the sharing of intimate photos or videos, or ‘sexting’,  which has become prevalent among younger people. A recent Guardian article sheds light on the alarming rise in child sexual abuse cases related to self-generated data and the implications of end-to-end encryption used in social media channels such as Facebook Messenger, Snapchat, Whatsapp, and Instagram. With 97% of children owning a smartphone by age 12 in the UK, parents must equip their children with the knowledge and skills necessary to make informed decisions about what they share online and with whom. 


The internet is a vast and powerful resource but it comes with its own set of dangers they need to remain mindful of. Instilling this awareness early on equips our future generations with the tools to protect themselves and make informed decisions in the digital realm. In a world where connectivity is a fundamental part of our lives, online safety should be every child's first line of defence. - Jake Moore, ESET Cyber Security Expert 


End-to-end encryption, designed to protect user privacy, has inadvertently created a breeding ground for criminal activities, particularly in the form of child sexual abuse facilitated through self-generated data. The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) found self-generated child sexual abuse material (CSAM) featuring children under 10 on more than 100,000 web pages in the last year - an increase of 66% from the year before.


These figures demonstrate the importance of parents actively engaging with their children on the topic of online safety. As a parent, here are a few ways you can support your children to stay safe online. 


Open communication

Establish an open and non-judgmental line of communication with your children. Encourage them to share their online experiences, concerns, and questions. If new apps become available, go through them together and learn how what tools or features you can use to make them safer. If appropriate, share your own experiences that your children might relate to, to help them feel comfortable discussing intimate topics without fear of punishment.


Inform them of the risks and consequences

Tell your children about the potential risks associated with sharing intimate content online. ESET’s recent Think Twice survey shows that 44% of people didn’t know it was illegal to incite or encourage sexts with anyone under 18 years old. Talk them through the legal implications (let them know that it is technically illegal in the UK to share or receive intimate photos/videos from anyone under the age of 18), how sharing intimate messages online takes the content out of your control, and how this opens up the opportunity for them to be misused. 


Teach them basic online safety precautions

Sit down with your children and run through the different ways they can improve their overall safety online across the different apps they may be using. Show them how to set their privacy settings on social media platforms and equip them with the tools and knowledge they need to protect their online presence. 


Encourage empathy and respect

Instill values of empathy and respect in your children. Help them understand the impact of their actions on others and emphasise the importance of consent in all interactions, both online and offline.


Establish boundaries

Set clear boundaries regarding online behaviour and the sharing of personal content. Discuss the importance of respecting oneself and others in the digital space.


Stay informed

Keep up-to-date with the latest developments in online safety and privacy. Keep an eye on what new apps and tools your children may be using to stay on top of the current trends. 


Smartphone users are getting younger and younger, with children getting their first smartphones in the UK at an average age of 11 - you can check out this article to find out how to determine when your child is ready to own their first smartphone.


You can find out more about the risks of sexting and how you can support your child to navigate their online interactions safely with ESET’s Think Twice Campaign. Together, through awareness and empowering children to feel comfortable in saying no, we can help the younger generations stay safe online. 

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