7 min readOnline Safety: What are the risks and how can we stay safe?posted about 1 year ago

In light of Safer Internet Day this week it is important to bring further awareness to some of the online risks that exist.

Technology is a part of our everyday lives and especially for children and young people who are constantly exploring new ideas and socialising with their peers. Children have access to the internet from a very young age however this brings both opportunities and also challenges. We also live in an era of cyber insecurity and attacks are common, be it malware, viruses or hacking. People wouldn’t leave their wallets or personal belongings lying around in a public space, but have almost definitely clicked on a link that didn’t seem totally safe or downloaded something from an unknown source.

Within the world of education, we have a duty of care to ensure that student safety is at the heart of our policies and practices especially regarding staying safe online. It is essential that we teach children and young people to develop the skills they need to keep themselves safe, and secure, and to also behave appropriately when using technology in any setting. Online safety will always be an ongoing effort that requires education, awareness, communication, and understanding of technology.

We know that most young people and adults are aware of how to protect themselves online, however, it's important for us all to come together to protect ourselves and others from things like online abuse, radicalisation and fraud as well.

It is important for parents to understand how to educate their children about online safety and also how to monitor their activities where applicable. 

There are many risks that can present from online use such as:

Our Online Reputation

What we post online can define what people see and think about us and our opinions and views can be shared at the touch of a button. Most people will treat their social media accounts as purely social outlets with updating statuses and sharing pictures. Nobody usually stops to think, especially as a child or young person that their actions could end up limiting their educational or professional prospects in the future. It is always important to think before you post and to carefully read things before you hit the share button.

A Digital Footprint

Whenever we use the internet, we leave behind a trail of information known as our digital footprint. This can grow in a variety of ways such as what we post on our social media channels, leaving reviews or comments, shopping online and subscribing to websites or newsletters. Websites will track our information by installing cookies and information can then be shared with third parties.


Cyber ‘phishing’ has become one of the most successful methods that criminals will use to hack an individual or organisation’s personal information. Emails with links to fake websites try to trick people into disclosing usernames and passwords or other relevant information.


Online gaming is extremely popular for children and young people but also for a lot of adults. Annual reports from Ofcom tell us that online gaming is one of the top activities enjoyed by 5-16-year-olds. Gaming does have some great benefits however it can also impact negatively on a person’s well-being. People can be exposed to online risks such as in-game bullying, online grooming, radicalisation, and gaming addiction.


Online gambling has seen a huge increase in popularity for children and young people as well as adults. Gambling not only carries the risk of addiction but also has other associated risks such as pay-outs not being fair or open and the exploitation of people’s vulnerabilities particularly within a current financial crisis.

Online Abuse

Online abuse can be any type of abuse that happens online on any device connected to the internet. The thing about online abuse is it can happen anywhere at any time. It can occur on:

  1. Social media
  2. Text messages and messaging apps
  3. Emails
  4. Online chats
  5. Online gaming
  6. Live-streaming sites.

Some forms of online abuse can include:

  1. Cyberbullying or online bullying can have a significant impact on the well-being of a child or young person.
  2. Emotional abuse is any type of abuse that involves the continual emotional mistreatment of a person and this can happen both on and offline.
  3. Sexual Abuse - A child or young person experiencing abuse online might spend a lot more or a lot less time than usual online, texting, gaming or using social media, seem distant, upset or angry after using the internet or texting, be secretive about who they're talking to and what they're doing online or on their mobile phone and have lots of new phone numbers, texts or email addresses on their mobile phone, laptop or tablet.
  4. Grooming is when someone builds a relationship with a person so they can sexually abuse, exploit, or traffic them. Children, young people and adults at risk can be groomed online or face-to-face by a stranger or by someone they know. If you're worried a child is being groomed online you should report it online to CEOP and contact the Police.
  5. Online Sexual Violence or Sexual Harassment is defined as unwanted sexual conduct on any digital platform. It includes a wide range of behaviours that use technology to share digital content such as images, videos, posts, messages, pages etc. on a variety of different platforms (private or public).
  6. Sexting is when someone shares sexual, naked or semi-naked images or videos of themselves or others or sends sexual messages. It is online abuse if a child or young person is pressured or coerced into creating or sending these types of images.
  7. Cyberstalking is persistent unwanted contact from another person – either someone you know or a stranger. Cyberstalkers have many different motives, including those who feel wronged by their target, ex-partners, those with misplaced sexual motives, or those who just derive pleasure from scaring other, often random people. They can exploit your digital footprint by snooping on your social media channels/apps to find out your every movement, who you are in contact with and your plans. As cyberstalkers become more determined, they intrude on more aspects of your online presence, sometimes including hacking or taking over your social media accounts.
  8. Domestic Abuse- Perpetrators can cause distress and harm to another young person or adult by use of the internet, tracking devices, social media control, text messages and this can have a significant impact on a person's mental and physical safety. 


There are significant risks associated with radicalisation in respect to being online. Extremist content can be shared online using mainstream and non-mainstream social media and through chat platforms such as discord and gaming chats. Individuals and groups can share misinformation, conspiracy theories and extremist materials and be smart enough to bypass monitoring systems if they do exist. When people are also able to post anonymously it can increase the risk and opportunity for people to access extremist materials that can lead people into being radicalised and supporting extremist causes linked to terrorism and to even be coerced into planning or committing a terrorist act. 

Top Tips for staying safe online:

  1. Adopt a think before you post approach.
  2. Use strong encryptions.
  3. Ensure you password protect things and use strong/different passwords.
  4. Keep personal information safe and limited wherever possible.
  5. Keep privacy settings on.
  6. Be careful what you download.
  7. Be careful about who you meet online.
  8. Tell someone if you are being bullied or harassed.
  9. Speak up if you are concerned about something you see.
  10. Report inappropriate or concerning material.

Further information and support services:

Government Guidance: https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/uk-council-for-internet-safety 


NSPCC: https://www.nspcc.org.uk/keeping-children-safe/online-safety/ 

Safer Internet: https://saferinternet.org.uk/ 


Internet Watch Foundation: https://www.iwf.org.uk/ 

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Rachael Bishop

Rachael Bishop

Rachael has over 18 years of experience, paired with an extensive training record within the safeguarding field.