Child abuse scandal whistleblower offers online safety advice

Sara Rowbotham, who exposed the Rochdale child abuse scandal, has worked with tech social enterprise Reason Digital to develop a set of guidelines to help parents keep their children safe online.

Joe Lepper | 13th Mar 19
Reason Digital co-founder Matt Haworth and Sara Rowbotham

The former sexual health worker who exposed the Rochdale child abuse scandal has issued a warning to parents about posting pictures of their children on social media.

Sara Rowbotham says that parents need to take a moment before posting to check privacy settings and also consider their child’s feelings about the images being posted.

The warning has been issued as part of a wide set of guidelines for parents to keep children safe in the digital age.

Also involved in drafting the guidelines is Matt Howarth, Co-Founder of charity specialist tech social enterprise Reason Digital, which is working with Rowbotham to develop an advice chatbot to help protect young people.

“Be mindful when posting pictures of your child online,” states the guidelines.

“It’s nothing to be ashamed of but take a minute to check your privacy settings so you know, and are happy with, how many people may be able to see them.

“Also consider that your child may be on social media and could potentially be unhappy that their friends have seen these personal pictures.”

Check privacy settings

Other advice for parents includes looking at privacy settings guides and walkthoughs on social media, so that they can talk confidently to their children about reducing online risks.

Applying talks about stranger danger outside the home to online communities is also advised.

Any attempt to limit screen time should also be arranged with children, as research has shown that they often know when they’ve had too much.

“If you want to implement limitations, work with your child to find out what they deem as enough and go from there – that way the child feels more empowered and in control of their own time and is less likely to hide screen time from you,” says the guidelines.

Talk openly about online behaviour

Parents should try to encourage children to talk opening about their online behavior and not react negatively, as this can lead to a child “closing down” about something that is worrying them, the guidelines add.

“Young people are growing up in a different world and parents and guardians need to be aware of the guidelines around online safety for children and young people,” said Rowbotham.

“I’d advise adults to communicate with their children and not be fazed by technology and social media, you will always know more than a child regardless of the platform. Perpetrators might be using different tools, but the themes of power and manipulation still apply, and children need to use common sense and make good judgements.”

Haworth added: “Social media is such a broad topic, there are so many positives to life in the online community, but like real life, you need to be as streetwise.

“In the last 10 to 15 years parents have had to apply a new way of thinking, as eight and nine year-olds now have mobile phones. Sit down with your child and inspire them to trust their instincts and discuss what they’re posting, reading and how they should respond to any unwanted attention.”