A CHILDREN'S charity has warned parents to be aware of the tell-tale signs that their children are vulnerable to abuse online.

The plea comes after new research revealed that more than a third of children being supported by Barnardo’s to escape sexual exploitation in the North-East have being targeted online through social media.

The charity says that teenagers’ desire to fit in and belong, combined with a wish to experiment and natural curiosity can make them vulnerable to being exploited.

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A survey revealed that 54 out of 161 North-East children being helped by Barnardo's sexual exploitation services reporting that technology and social media were factors in their abuse.

Young people told the charity that they have been targeted online by perpetrators through a variety of mediums, including social networks like Facebook, instant messaging apps like Blackberry messenger, photo sharing apps such as Snapchat, dating apps and online games.

Barnardo’s director in the North East Steve Oversby said: “Teenagers’ inherent curiosity and vulnerabilities means they can often unwittingly find themselves in situations where they are at risk of being sexually exploited.

“We want all parents to feel comfortable talking to their children about this difficult subject so they can stay safe online and in their daily lives while still having the freedom to explore as they grow up.

“Only by knowing what to look for will we be able to protect children from abuse and help more victims come forward and get the support they need.”

The warning comes as Barnardo's launches a hard-hitting television advert highlighting child sexual exploitation.

A free guide for parents about how to be aware of the signs of child sexual exploitation is available at www.barnardos.org.uk/spot_the_signs_parents.pdf