UNICEF issues tips on protecting adolescents from increased online risks during COVID-19
BANGKOK, 20 April 2020: The COVID-19 pandemic is keeping children in home and out of school. Many children and young people are spending much of their time online and are at risk of abuse. To help parents and adolescents, UNICEF East Asia and Pacific has teamed up with Patrick Burton of the Centre for Justice and Crime Prevention (CJCP) and Dr. Monica Bulger of Literacy Online with tips on how young people can protect themselves online, and how parents and caregivers can support their children to stay safe.
“For many children and adolescents, time online is a social lifeline and a means of continuing education.” said Rachel Harvey, UNICEF East Asia and Pacific, Regional Advisor for Child Protection. “While such opportunities are critical, the increased time spent online exposes them to greater risks of online abuse and exploitation.”
Over 320 million children and young people have been affected by school closures in East Asia and Pacific. If they can, many children are now taking classes as well as socializing more online. This can leave children vulnerable to online sexual exploitation and grooming, as predators look to exploit the COVID-19 pandemic. A lack of face-to-face contact with friends and partners may lead to heightened risk-taking such as sending sexualized images, while increased and unstructured time online may expose children to potentially harmful and violent content as well as greater risk of cyberbullying.
Parents and caregivers may be struggling to support and monitor their children, including their online activity. They might be coping with increased economic burdens and uncertainty; more stress and they could be facing difficulties in maintaining and keeping households functioning during this disorienting time.
“In addition to the economic and social stressors and uncertainty, parents and caregivers are now faced with added challenges in keeping children safe online, often from a position of limited knowledge and technical expertise themselves,” says Patrick Burton of the CJCP. “While daunting, this can also be an important opportunity to start these conversations with children on how best to stay safe online.”
The new guidance will help ensure children’s online experiences are safe and positive during COVID-19. The practical steps that adolescents can follow, include:
- Checking privacy settings
- Making sure locations cannot be identified
- Blocking anyone that makes them feel uncomfortable
- Knowing where they can seek help
While parents and caregivers can:
- Speak to their children about online safety
- Become familiar with online safety tools themselves
- Understand the risks that their children may face online
- Be alert to signs of distress linked with online activity and know where to seek help
This guidance follows the new technical note released by UNICEF and its partners last week aimed at governments, ICT industries, educators and parents to be alert and take urgent measures to mitigate potential risks that children might encounter online during the pandemic.