How can you keep your children safe online? We run through the top tips

Death of boy in North following ‘sextortion’ increases concern over child internet safety

Talking to children about their internet use and setting some boundaries can help keep them safe online.

Parents across Ireland will inevitably be feeling more uncomfortable than usual about their children's internet use following news that a man in Romania was sentenced to four years in prison for blackmailing a 17-year-old boy from Co Tyrone into sharing intimate photographs of himself.

Ronan Hughes from Donaghmore took his own life in June 2015 after photographs he was duped into sending to Iulian Enache (31) were shared with friends and posted online. Enache pleaded guilty in a Romanian court last week to blackmailing the teenager and producing/distributing indecent images of a child.

This trend of "sextortion" – when victims are coerced or manipulated into producing sexual content which is then used for blackmail – is rapidly on the rise with Facebook revealing earlier this year that it assessed nearly 54,000 potential cases of revenge pornography and sextortion on the site in a single month.

‘Industrial scale’

In 2014, Interpol found "sextortion scams" being operated in the Philippines "on an almost industrial scale from call centre-style offices", while in 2016, the UK National Crime Agency's anti-kidnap and extortion unit dealt with 1,247 reports of cyber-enabled blackmail offences in that year. Under-reporting on the trend means it is unclear how many children in Ireland are affected by this type of blackmail.


In June of this year Europol launched a campaign in conjunction with An Garda Síochána and other European law-enforcement agencies calling on young people to "say no".

However, what can you, as parents, do to protect your kids? What measures can you introduce at home to shield your children from the darker, victim-targeting side of the internet?

We’ve put together a list of basic steps to ensure your child can enjoy using the internet in a balanced and safe way.

– Talk to your child openly about the internet and ask them questions about their usage. For example, what are the newest and best websites and apps? Can you show me your favourites? Have you ever seen anything online that made you feel weird sad or uncomfortable? What are your friends doing online?

– Don’t be afraid to set boundaries and rules around internet use for your children from a young age. Guide them in the digital world the same way you do in day-to-day life – don’t talk to strangers or say things you wouldn’t say face to face.

– Control the amount of information your child shares on social networking sites. Explain why it’s not safe to accept friend requests from strangers.

– Keep your computer/laptop/tablet in an open area where all online activity can be seen.

– Limit the number of hours your child spends online and switch off your modem at night for a daily digital holiday for all the family.

– Ensure you know how to use parental controls on computers, mobiles and games consoles as well as privacy features on social networking sites and safety options on Google.

– Install and activate an anti-virus/anti-spyware product and install or enable a firewall. Also, turn on automatic updates so your software security remains up to date.

– Set strong passwords and make sure you have copies of your children’s passwords.

– Review the browser history to keep track of what sites your child is visiting.

– As your children grow older and become teenagers make sure they really understand the basics of internet safety including not clicking on links in emails or instant messages, good password practice and not turning off antivirus programmes and firewalls.

– Talk to them about the benefits of the internet and make it clear that you understand how important technology is to them. However, you also need to talk about being responsible online and the dangers of online bullying and pornography.

– Talk about being respectful to others and not getting dragged into online fights or bullying.

– Practise what you preach. Let them know it’s not easy being a parent in the digital world but that you love them and are on their side. If they are cutting down on screen time maybe you should too.