What to do when your child sees something inappropriate online

If your child has been online more than once, it’s likely they’ve seen or encountered something inappropriate.

This can include pornography, violence, bullying, eating disorders, messages from strangers, suicidal thoughts or behaviors, and even child sexual abuse material.

This probably happens more often than children and teenagers will ever admit. After all, describing such content – ​​and how one found or received it – can make for an awkward conversation with a parent.

But all of this disturbing content, and more, is available online for them to discover, and it can have a negative impact on their lives. Mental Healthsays Dr. Janis Whitlock, senior advisor at The Jed Foundation (JED).

Young people may see something that sparks a deep sense of worry about their safety in the world or that is “radically at odds” with what they have previously observed or considered, Whitlock says.

Although an adult may react with rage when confronted with child sexual abuse material, she notes that a child is more likely to react with deep fear. Such experiences can increase or amplify depression and anxiety, and make them helpless in the face of injustices that other people, including children like them, may experience.

In order to prepare yourself (and a parenthood plan) For a delicate but necessary conversation with a child or teen who has seen something horrible online, consider these tips from Whitlock:

1. Let your child know that they can talk to you about what they see or do online.

A Bark’s recent annual reporta parental monitoring service, has identified the main categories of inappropriate online content that young users encounter, sometimes at alarming rates, such as suicidal ideation, violence, eating disorders and sexual content.

The prospect of discussing each type of content in advance with a young person may seem too daunting for a parent. Some topics may not even be developmentally appropriate to discuss with younger children.

But Whitlock says parents don’t need to explain in detail the variety of horrible things a child can see online. Instead, she recommends helping children and teens know that when they experience uncomfortable emotions in response to content, it’s a good time to talk to their parents. These feelings may include confusion, shame, embarrassment, disgust and fear.

“Kids need to be able to say, ‘I think I’m overwhelmed, or there’s something going on here that doesn’t feel right.'”

2. Respond openly when they talk to you about something inappropriate.

Ideally, when a child initiates this conversation, their parent will respond calmly, Whitlock says. It’s not helpful to shame a child for clicking a certain link or exploring content they shouldn’t. Remember, a curious child may Google a phrase they heard at school, without realizing the results they will get.

Instead, Whitlock recommends validating whatever a child feels in response to the content they’ve viewed, and remaining curious and nonjudgmental as they share more.

She understands that conversations about concerning content are likely to make some parents uncomfortable or uncomfortable. It is important to be attentive to these emotions and stay centered when talking to a child about their own feelings, so that the discussion stays focused on supporting the child.

While it is in a child’s best interests to restrict their access to the Internet or a device based on what they have viewed, parents should still avoid being overly punitive. If a child and a parent had already agreed to certain limits who were later violated, imposing consequences can help a child take responsibility for how they use their device.

3. Don’t dismiss their complex feelings.

Some children may share that they feel both attracted and repelled by inappropriate content. Parents should honor this level of candor by helping their child understand that emotions are complex.

Certain types of online content are so offensive precisely because that’s what grabs people’s attention and curiosity, even if they don’t like how their interest or voyeurism makes them feel.

Whitlock says children and adolescents are wired to form connections and a sense of belonging, especially when they feel insecure about themselves or the world around them. Ignoring or questioning a complicated answer can leave a child feeling alone or misunderstood. They may try to remedy this disappointment by searching online for peers or strangers who identify with them.

“What they can’t find at home or in their offline life, in terms of support, they may go elsewhere to find it, and the places where they find it may not be truly supportive,” Whitlock says.

Additionally, trying to reassure a child that the horrible thing they saw isn’t happening to them or helps them understand the fact that it happens to other children like them – and the feeling of injustice or helplessness that he may feel. therefore.

Whitlock says parents should recognize that there are other people who share their child’s outrage, and who can also work hard to prevent things like bullying and child sexual abuse.

Parents who have tried these approaches without much success might consider seeking help from a mental health professional, says Whitlock.

4. Check security settings and controls.

Although parents and young people should be able to count on robust security measures designed to protect minors online, this is far from the daily reality, especially on social media platforms.

Whitlock urges parents to advocate for improvements to the platform’s security policies and safeguards. However, in their absence, she says parents should familiarize themselves with how to use security controls and features to limit certain types of content.

She notes that most routers now include features that allow parents to selectively block access to content and the Internet on a per-device basis. Cellular carriers also offer parental control features, as do commonly used web browsers. Parents should consider blocking access to adult sites as well as filtering search results to exclude explicit content.

Parents can also review privacy settings on gaming and social media platforms to protect their child from adult and explicit content, in addition to blocking posts from users your child does not know.

Parents should discuss what they have blocked and limited with their child and why they made these choices. They can also invite their child to make similar choices to give them more power.

Whitlock emphasizes how essential it is to have an ongoing dialogue with children about these issues: “Parents need to do everything they can to keep those doors of communication open. »

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