Risks and issues online

Cyberbullying, spam and using webcams - help girls in your unit to navigate risks online

Our young members are very familiar with how to live their lives online

They may be less familiar, however, with the potential risks. As a volunteer, it's important to be aware of the following issues in case they affect any of the girls in your unit.

Adverts and spam

Advise girls that spam - irrelevant or unsolicited messages or emails - and adverts which encourage them to visit other websites can actually mask computer viruses.

Young members can use their computer's security features - such as firewalls, anti-spyware or anti-virus software - to manage these threats, so encourage them to speak to their parent or carer for support. They can also use pop-up blockers - plugins for browsers that you can download - to stop ads appearing.


Cyberbullying can occur via email, social networking and gaming sites, online chat or text message. If a young member has received a threatening or abusive message, encourage them to:

  • refrain from responding
  • save the messages and keep a copy - they can copy and paste the content, or use 'Print Screen' or a 'screen shot'
  • show a trusted adult.

Ensure girls are aware that when chatting online:

  • most services allow you to block and report users
  • they can leave or log out of a website if they are not happy with what they are seeing
  • on social networking sites, they can temporarily deactivate their account if necessary.

If the abuse is happening through texts and phonecalls, advise them not to respond or answer calls from a withheld number. They can bar a specific number from calling them if they need to by contacting their mobile network provider - however, some mobile phone operators will take action only if the police are involved. In this case, they could consider changing their mobile phone number.

It's important to encourage young members to tell a trusted adult if they feel they are experiencing cyberbullying. Attempting to deal with the situation alone may cause them personal distress and things may escalate without help.

You can reassure girls experiencing cyberbullying that it's not their fault. If they feel they can’t tell anyone about what's happening, encourage them to call ChildLine on 0800 1111 for support and advice.


Sexting refers to making or sending self-generated inappropriate or explicit material (including photos) of a sexual nature.

  • Remind young members that photos are easy to forward, copy, edit and post online without their knowledge or consent.
  • Make them aware of the consequences of sexting, should this material be shared outside of the intended recipient.
  • Let them know how they can get support if any material that is shared upsets them.
  • Try to provide guidance so that young members can make an informed choice about how they share and distribute photos.

Childline’s ZipIt app can defuse the pressure to ‘sext’ with tips and advice on flirting that enables young people to stay in control. 

Unwanted images

Young members may see or receive an unwanted image online, or have an image of them shared without their consent.

Make sure to encourage girls to tell a trusted adult as soon as possible if this happens, and reassure them that it is not their fault. You can contact the website or service where they received this communication, such as Facebook, to have an image removed. If you feel it is necessary, you can also report the communication to the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) through its online reporting form.

Viewing adult content

Young people may come across adult material of a sexual nature online. Adult material circulated online is increasingly violent and also creates an expectation for young people to perform or look a certain way.

It is important to educate young members about real sex and relationships and challenge these online representations. You can help by using our Let's Talk about Sex and Relationships resources to start the conversation or booking a Free Being Me session with one of our Peer Educators. These sessions provide an opportunity for young members to challenge societal pressures and perceptions and to increase their confidence and self-esteem.


Young members should be very cautious when using webcams and only do so with people they actually know and see in everyday life, such as friends or family. It is important to make young members aware that when they use a webcam the image can be recorded, copied and shared without them knowing.

Stay safe online

Find out more about how to use the internet and social media safely from A Safe Cyberspace.