The Right to
Safety And Support
Children and young people should be confident that they will be protected from illegal practices and supported if confronted by troubling or upsetting scenarios online.
The routine conflation between what is illegal and what is harmful is unhelpful. For that which is explicitly illegal there is no ambiguity. Nevertheless, no child can ever be entirely safe and not every harm is illegal. It is therefore important that children learn how to stay safe by learning to manage risk.
Just as when we reduce the potential harm of crossing the road by holding a child’s hand, it is equally possible to allow young people to explore digital spaces but provide education, support, guidance and representation when needed, varying the strategies by age and maturity.
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child makes clear that, due to their physical and mental immaturity, children require special safeguards, care and appropriate legal protection. However, when more than one in four secondary school children using social networking sites have reported being upset in the last year, and more than one in ten of those said they felt upset on a daily basis, it is clear that our current strategies are not working. Provision, while often of excellent quality, is also often under-funded or fragmented.
With or without blocking software, young people are likely, at some point, to be exposed to potentially harmful content, contact or behaviour, whether by accident, through deliberate action, or by the harmful maleficent action of others.
It must be right that children and young people receive an age-appropriate, comparable level of adult protection, care and guidance in the online space, as in the offline. And that all parties contribute to common safety and support frameworks easily accessible and understandable by young people.
 Lilley, C., Ball, R. and Vernon, H. (2014) The experiences of 11-16 year olds on social networking sites. NSPCC