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This article was contributed by NCA-CEOP

NCA-CEOP is a command of the National Crime Agency. As well as being a reporting mechanism, NCA-CEOP works with child protection partners across the UK and overseas to identify the main threats to children, and coordinates activity against these threats to bring offenders to account.

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Video chatting: a guide for parents and carers of secondary school-age children

Girl video calling on phone

Image: Julia M Cameron/Pexels

Hands up if you’ve used Zoom, FaceTime, Houseparty, WeChat, Skype or WhatsApp to stay in touch with family and friends since COVID-19 restrictions began? That’ll be most of you, then – and the same is probably true of your children.

With school closed for most students, young people will almost certainly be spending more time online socialising with their friends. And one of the things they’re likely to be doing is using a video-chatting service – whether for a one-to-one conversation or in a group.

Video chat can be a great way for young people to feel close to their friends during this unsettling time, so long as they’re having a positive experience when using it.

Here’s how to help them get the most from it.

(Note: we also have a guide for the parents/carers of primary-aged children.)

Video chat can be good for your child’s mental health

Parents may be worrying about the amount of time their child is spending online right now, but socialising with friends is incredibly important – particularly for young people at secondary-school age. And video chat is one of the easiest ways that young people can keep in touch during the current lockdown conditions.

One way to make sure there’s a balance between online and offline activities could be to sit down with your child and draw up a schedule.

Set aside time for them to use the internet and chat with friends, but also include slots for other important activities such as exercise, eating and family time. And don’t forget sleep!

Decide which apps are suitable for your child

There are dozens of video-chatting apps, each offering different features, so do a little research about which ones your child is using – or wants to use.

Some video-chatting apps have built in filters, quizzes and even games to make them more entertaining. You might want to check these out yourself, so you know what your child has access to.

There are also big differences regarding who your child will be able to talk to. Some can even connect you to strangers through features such as a ‘big chat’, whereas others connect you to friends of friends, even if you don’t personally know them. Take a look at the settings, and talk to your child about what you feel is suitable.

Parent Zone offers guides to the key features of many popular apps and games, including the currently very popular Houseparty and Zoom. The NSPCC's Net Aware site does a similar job. The National Cyber Security Centre, meanwhile, recently published its guidance for using video conferencing services securely. It’s well worth checking out for further information. 

Talk to your child about how they use video chat

You could ask your child about their favourite video-chatting app, and what they like about it.

What do they do on them – just chat? Have they tried having lunch with their friends while on a chat, or doing an exercise class together? There are lots of really exciting ways to use chat apps that can help make it feel like (almost) nothing has changed.

Talking to your child about these positive aspects of using video chat may help them feel they can be more open with you about how they spend their online time in general during lockdown.

Let your child know that you understand that they will be online more at the moment, and that’s OK – but you want them to be safe. Let them know they can talk to you, or another trusted adult, about any worries.

You can show them articles about online chat from the 11-13 or 14+ Thinkuknow websites as a way to start the conversation about their life online. You could also build Thinkuknow #OnlineSafetyAtHome activity worksheets into your child’s home-learning routine.

Video chat and romantic relationships

With many couples currently unable to see each other, young people may turn to technology to develop their romantic relationships. Again, this can be a really positive thing – and it offers a good opportunity to talk to your child about their situation.

Children, like adults, can feel more confident when they are online as they feel protected by the screen. This can result in some young people feeling comfortable to, for example, send naked/semi-naked selfies of themselves (often called ‘nudes’ by young people) or to get naked whilst on video chat.

Although research shows it’s not something that most young people do, getting naked or semi-naked online is another way that young people can explore sex and relationships. This is often part of a trusting relationship or as a way to flirt with someone they like.

Talk to your child about sex, relationships and nudes selfies to ensure that they know that they can turn to you for non-judgemental support and advice. Thinkuknow’s ‘nude selfies’ parents article has guidance on how to talk to your child about this topic. Watch the videos to help you have that all important conversation! There’s also plenty of advice on Parent Info, including articles on sexting, sharing nudes and sex and relationships online.

Some adults use video chat to take advantage of young people

Lots of people speak to new friends online who they haven’t met in real life. Most of these online friends are genuine, but very occasionally they can be adults looking to harm children. Offenders may try to meet young people in public areas of an app and then ask them to chat privately on video, where conversations are likely to be less moderated.

Young people should understand that no one should ever make them feel pressured or threatened online. If someone has pressured them to do something sexual on camera or has threatened to share images of them with others, they can report this to CEOP, where a child-protection specialist will support them through what’s happened.

Make sure your child knows where they can go for support if they ever need it. Remind them that they can always speak to you or another trusted adult if they are worried, or to one of these support services:

  • CEOP – CEOP is a law enforcement agency which works to keep children and young people safe from sexual abuse and grooming online. Young people can make an online report to CEOP (www.ceop.police.uk) if they are worried about something that happened when talking to someone online (this could be another young person or an adult): for example sexually explicit chat, asking for images, pressuring them, or threatening to share nudes. The young person will get help and support from a specialist child protection advisor.
  • Childline – If a young person is nervous about speaking to an adult they know, they can always speak to someone at Childline. Childline can be contacted via a call or online chat confidentially, about anything: 0800 1111 or www.childline.org.uk. Childline run a service called ‘Report Remove’. If a nude image or video of a young person has been shared online, the young person can report it to Childline and they will work to have it removed from the internet.
  • The Mix – The Mix offers support to young people up to the age of 25. They have an online chat service, free helpline, and a text service. They support young people with lots of different issues including mental health, sex and relationships, body image, drugs and alcohol, school etc: 0808 808 4994 or www.themix.org.uk.

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