The ‘Follow Me’ video which features an adult male stopping families in shopping centres and asking if he can physically follow their children, sparks alarm and anger among parents.
The short video aims to prompt parents and carers to talk to their children about the risks and dangers online to help keep them safe from being groomed and sexually exploited.
The UK’s largest children’s charity says families wouldn’t allow strangers to try and make friends with their children in the real world, so why let them do it on social media.
Previous research carried out at the charity’s child sexual exploitation, (CSE), services showed two thirds of children supported by them had been groomed online before going on to meet the person and then suffered sexual abuse.
Barnardo’s 40 plus UK-wide CSE services reported a steep 38% increase in the number of people they supported in 2016-17.
Barnardo’s Chief Executive, Javed Khan said: “We made this video because we know just how susceptible all children are to being groomed online and then being sexually abused offline.
Children make friends very quickly with people they’ve only just met online. They don’t regard them as strangers, or see the risks they might pose.
What starts as an innocent and harmless chat with a ‘friend’, can very quickly develop into a dangerous relationship with devastating consequences. That’s why it’s crucial we make our children aware of the dangers online and do everything we can to help keep them safe.
All parents and carers need to watch the video, and visit Barnardo’s website to find out ways to protect children online.”
The charity has published guidance on its website and ways parents and carers can help keep their children safe online, such as:
- Discussing the dangers of talking to strangers
- Making sure children use age-appropriate sites
- Using the highest possible privacy settings
- Using parental controls
- Helping children understand the consequences of sharing images and personal information
Evidence shows children want their parents to be more tech aware. A survey for Barnardo’s earlier this year showed 68% of children said that they feel better if their parents can help keep them safe online. In the same YouGov poll 43% of 11 to 15 year olds said they were worried about strangers contacting them when they went online.
The charity’s Digital Dangers report says all children are vulnerable to being groomed and sexually exploited on the internet via mobile technology.