The thought of your child seeing something disturbing or extreme online can be very distressing and can leave parents unsure what to do.
It would be much easier to pretend this material doesn’t exist, but with the development of mobile technology, social media and the internet, everyone’s access to disturbing, violent or graphic videos and images is much easier, and more likely. Once children have a mobile phone they may be sent offline photos or videos that don’t even require an internet connection.
There are more and more ways you can make the internet safer by using parental controls which will restrict much of the most harmful content, but these are no real substitute for open conversations, agreeing ground rules and boundaries.
What is disturbing content?
While the internet is an amazing development, giving instant access to a vast collection of knowledge and creativity, it’s also full of the very weird and not very wonderful.
There are no easy definitions when it comes to disturbing or extreme content. For example, graphic or violent stories in games and films may only be suitable for adults, while they are not to every adult’s taste, they may not be illegal or ‘extreme’.
Major social media platforms do have restrictions on extreme material which typically include:
- real-life violence, including violent pornography, cruelty and bestiality
- abuse and sexual exploitation, including child abuse
- extremism – including extreme political and religious material
- hate speech
- conspiracy theories
- illegal activities or promotion of crime.
There are however, doubts about how well some social media platforms enforce this. Stumbling upon, or being sent, this type of content is sadly too common, but it’s more of a worry when people – including teenagers and children – actively seek it out and take an unhealthy interest in it.
If you have concerns about anything your child has seen online and the impact it has had on them, it may help to talk to someone.
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Supporting your child if they’ve seen something extreme or disturbing
As a parent you might assume that your child will be affected and traumatised by any disturbing or explicit material that they view. The reality is that most children will at some point see something that scares or confuses them and the truth is that it rarely has any long-term impact.
As a parent you can help children make sense of what they’ve seen:
Your child won’t want to hurt you so if you are shocked they may feel ashamed – and then they will be less likely to talk to you in the future even if they want to.
It is easy to accidentally find disturbing content, so do not assume they were looking for it if they tell you they weren’t. Give them the benefit of the doubt.
Although you would like your child to remain young and innocent as long as possible, if they have seen something disturbing they need an explanation. Try and make things as simple as possible, but be honest that there are bad things in the world, though not everywhere.
Children will process what they’ve seen in different ways. Some will move on almost immediately, others will continue to think it over for longer. Make sure your child knows they can come back and speak about what they’ve seen if they need to.