14/08/2014 16:48 BST | Updated 22/05/2015 10:12 BST

Children More At Risk From Internet Than Traditional 'Stranger Danger', Says NSPCC

Children more at risk from internet than traditonal 'stranger danger', says NSPCC

The internet has eclipsed traditional 'stranger danger' as the biggest threat to our children's safety.

Instead of parents worrying about their children playing out in the street, they should be more concerned about the threats posed in their kids' own bedrooms.

These are the conclusions in a new NSPCC report that says educating young people about traditional 'stranger danger' is failing to equip them for new 'emerging threats' on social networking sites and through phenomena such as 'sexting' or cyberbullying.

Lisa Hawker, author of the report, said: "We are still trying to fully understand the scale of online harm but children are telling us that cyberbullying, sexting and seeing sexual images online are things that many of them are experiencing.

"Parents are perhaps unaware that when your child is using a computer or mobile phone they may be at greater risk of being hurt or harmed in some way than if hey are out and about in their local park.

"The changing nature of the way we live our lives means that actually your chances of meeting someone who can harm you is now much greater through the internet or your mobile phone through a stranger you might come across in the street or the local park.

"What's more new kinds of threats are emerging, particularly with the increasing amount of time children spend in the digital world ... while parents are used to equipping their children to deal with real or potential threats to their safety, they are much less confident when dealing with the online world."

The report, which pulls together a raft of official data and surveys, shows a significant long-term decline in violence against children in comparison with previous decades, contrary to public perceptions, but major new threats emerging through the internet.

Child murder, for example, is down by 30 per cent since the early 1980s and serious assault involving children have also declined steadily as have child suicide rates in most of the country.

But with children as young as five spending up to six hours a week on the internet, a quarter of 11 and 12 year-olds now see something which worries them on the internet every day, it warns.

Almost three out of 10 of those aged 11 to 16 have been bullied over the internet or through a smart phone and about one in 13 of them suffers 'persistent' cyberbullying, the charity estimates.

More than one in 10 children in the same age group has been on the receiving end of a sexually explicit message – a proportion which almost doubles among those aged 15 and 16. Meanwhile almost a third have had contact with a stranger on the internet and a quarter of nine to 16-year-olds have seen sexual images online in the last year.

The report also warns that only a small a fraction of abuse or neglect in the home is being detected.Only around one in nine of the estimated 520,000 children mistreated in their own home every year is under formal protection plans by their local authority.

Even on official figures, children are twice as likely to suffer mistreatment in the home than outside, but the report concludes that abuse is 'more often than not undetected'.

The report concludes that it would be impossible for social services ever to detect all cases of maltreatment of children in the home and calls for a shift in policy towards spotting warning signs and prevention.

"Wider society also has an important role to play, abusive behaviour cannot be stamped out by the state alone," it says.

"Individuals, families and communities must also be responsible for the change.

"All too often people frame this responsibility in terms of being willing to act if worried about a child, rather than being willing to address faults in their own or others' behaviour.

"Perhaps it is time to reassert our responsibilities to children as citizens."