Why the internet is like a Top Hat

by Nina Bibby, Marketing & Consumer Director, O2 and Peter Wanless, Chief Executive, NSPCC

Digital connectivity is now a vital part of our day to day lives and provides us with more possibilities and benefits than could be imagined just 10 years ago. From Google Maps and Uber to Khan Academy and Spotify, most of us would struggle for more than a day without it.

This digital world is the new normal for young people who have never known anything else. It presents enormous opportunities for our children, but at the same time it also presents risks. A third of children are sadly a victim of cyberbullying and one in four children have experienced something upsetting on a social media site.

And for many parents, who have grown up in an analogue world, this rapid pace of change can be overwhelming and confusing. According to our recent research, the number one worry for parents, ahead of bullying or even their children’s progress at school, is what their children are doing online.

Online child safety is one of the biggest child protection issues of our generation. We all have a role to play. Tech giants and start-ups, government ministers, schools and families themselves need to work to tackle this together.  While many are already, we are reminded with daily news stories that much more needs to be done.

That’s why a year ago we, O2 and the NSPCC, joined together in a landmark partnership simply, but ambitiously, to help and support parents to keep their kids safe online by combining O2’s technical expertise and NSPCC’s child protection knowledge.

Secondary schools provide a lot of support to parents, but with 35% of children aged 8-11 owning a mobile phone, more help and advice  needs to be available to parents of primary aged children encouraging them to discuss online safety earlier

To truly keep children safe online, we need to build their digital resilience to enable them to have the awareness and confidence to make the right judgement calls when needed  – whether that’s responding to a message from a stranger, sharing an incriminating image of a classmate or simply failing to tell a trusted adult if they’re worried.

It’s vitally important to their future and ours. Teaching young people how to live safely online, is the foundation on which they can thrive on the opportunities in the digital world. Recent evidence highlighted that nearly 90% of jobs require digital skills to some degree and the current digital skills gap costs the UK economy around £63bn a year in lost income.

This is why much of our partnership work together focuses on equipping and empowering parents with the right digital skills and tools so that they are as comfortable discussing what their child does online as they would their day at school.

In the first year of our partnership together we have:

  • Taken hundreds of calls from parents through our free Online Safety Helpline (0808 800 5002) –  offering support on issues ranging from privacy settings, tips on preventing cyber-bullying and advice on the removal of sexual images of children
  • Delivered online safety workshops to over 2,000 parents through primary schools, communities and workplaces with nearly seven in ten of those attending speaking to their child immediately afterwards. In 2017 this will spread to thousands more
  • Supported schools in protecting their students online through teaching materials and resources
  • Trained over 2,600 O2 staff through bespoke online child protection, therefore providing free advice and support for parents on nearly 500 high streets across the UK
  • Fully integrated online safety through O2’s retail business enabling guidance at the point a child’s first phone is bought

Since the launch of our partnership exactly a year ago, we have driven 4.6million engagements. This includes calls to our helpline, attendance at our workshops views of our resources and films.  And we’ve found that parents who engaged with our work are more likely to speak to their child about online safety and seek out advice.

Earlier this summer, we launched our latest campaign, explaining why the internet is not dissimilar to a magician’s hat. It’s full of exciting possibilities but can also hold some surprises. And while children  seem to know what they’re doing, sometimes it’s hard for parents to keep track.

If you’re a parent, the single most important thing you can do today is to talk to your child about their online life. It is never too early, and by having open conversations with your children whatever their age it will help prepare them to deal with the digital world

To find out more about the O2 and NSPCC partnership visit: o2.co.uk/nspcc