All parents want to keep their child safe. But protecting your child whilst helping them to learn independence and autonomy can be quite a tricky balancing act.
As today's NSPCC report has uncovered, sexual abuse of children is on the rise, but what is perhaps more frightening is that these figures are likely to be much lower than the reality. So many children hide their experiences for a long time - and some never come forward at all.
The modern world and its advances has brought us many advantages, but with them have come new dangers, particularly for children and young people who are learning about the world and their place in it. It is up to everyone from parents and teachers to nurses and health visitors, to educate ourselves on the various threats - and the shifting ways in which they manifest.
Technology has done a great deal to increase our access to information and knowledge, but this has also opened doors to those we'd rather not let through. Mobile technology in particular makes it increasingly harder to be aware of our children's digital lives.
Social media provides abusers with a new habitat in which to thrive, offering a range of platforms for any time of day. Abusers are often encouraged by the anonymity offered by numerous platforms through which they can manipulate and coerce young people to participate in sexual activity. This can range from interacting with sexual content online to building a relationship which leads to physical abuse.
With this kind of exploitation on the rise it is crucial that we do everything we can to slow this momentum. While the surveillance of children's online activity is one way to combat such dangers, they can be hard to spot without constant scrutiny. It's useful for parents to learn about digital platforms so they can understand the issues and can talk about them confidently with their children.
Meanwhile, the signs and effects of abuse, no matter what the source, are more possible to pick up. As nurses, we learn to use our time with children to identify signs of distress, and parents need to do the same. Symptoms can range from changes in personality to signs of fear or anxiety, and keeping communications channels open can make a big difference. It's vital that the right questions are asked and all avenues are explored when abuse is suspected, including the online sphere.
Sexual abuse is often linked to further issues in someone's life, so by uncovering problems early, we can help prevent these from escalating into lifelong psychological issues. What the NSPCC have so importantly highlighted is the need for fast and easy access to specialist treatment for victims. Health care staff have the ability to really make a difference, but this area needs investment if it is to provide the care victims need. The sooner victims receive specialist support, the more likely they are to lead healthy lives that aren't overshadowed by the effects of abuse.
Where children's wellbeing is involved we can't afford to be complacent. Awareness is key and by keeping up to date with the various dangers we have a much better chance of stopping them in their tracks. If we all work together, we can provide the support victims need and help prevent sexual abuse dictating the future of our children.
Fiona Smith is theProfessional Lead for Children and Young People's Nursing at the Royal College of Nursing