In this age of technology, we can find ourselves inundated with stories of tragedy and violence. Such information is very common because we can open our phone or laptop and almost immediately see videos of mass shootings, pictures of murder, news of sexual exploitation, about terrorist attacks. We adults can’t even bear to see this haunting content, so what about our children?
When it comes to children’s exposure to annoying, obscene, or inappropriate content online, one truth that parents must accept is that it’s not a matter of “if” but “when” because there is a very high risk of children accessing inappropriate content online.
So, as a parent, what should I do when my child sees something disturbing online?
What can be done to reduce the risk of children accessing disturbing content on the Internet?
Prepare your child mentally in advance by talking
There are several prevention strategies you can use to reduce the risk and possible long-term impact of distressing news effects on kids. One of the first effective prevention strategies is: Start having open conversations around Internet safety and strategies for dealing with problems, as soon as your child has access to an electronic device.
Instead of hiding, you should admit skillfully and frankly to your child that there is a high chance that they may encounter scary or inappropriate websites – which they know are not intended for children.
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You should specifically name content that requires attention, not just for pornography or adult movies, but also sites with rude or intimidating images, swearing language, or other horrifying content like ghosts, murders, accidents, gore, etc.
Create a close and comfortable talking environment
You need to let your child understand and constantly remind them that, if there’s something they see online that upsets them, you want them to tell you right away. Some children are wary of telling adults about what they have seen for fear they will get in trouble. You can reassure your child by promising not to take their device away.
To teach very young children how to identify inappropriate content online, you can also talk about the effects of inappropriate content to minors, of how their bodies will react if something upsets them. For example, when your child watches aggressive or murderous content, they may sweat palms, heart beat faster, feel scared, difficulty sleeping, nightmares, feeling difficult not to think about these horrible events, etc.
You can explain to your child that talking to an adult about when he or she has these feelings can help him better let go of bad feelings.
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Install online content filtering
Given the complex nature of the problem, it is difficult to completely eliminate harmful content in today’s internet-saturated world, so one solution does not solve all, parents should combine multiple solutions to minimize the risk of children’s access to harmful content online.
Besides talking to your kids, to ensure your child’s Internet safety, you should consider using an online content filtering tool to filter and hide harmful content on whatever browser your child uses:
- Horrifying content like gore, accident, ghost, violence, murder, terrorism, etc.
- Drug/Alcohol content which is about stimulants, addictive substances such as alcohol, beer, marijuana, drugs, weapons, medicines, etc.
- Hate speech: Content with hurtful, aggressive elements, hurting others
The special thing is that this extension is completely free and you can easily download them as a browser add-on.
What to do when my child sees something disturbing online?
Stay calm and listen to your child
Perhaps your daughter came across an erotic photo on Instagram. Maybe your son happened to see a terrorist video on YouTube. Or maybe your teen has viewed Reddit threads with racist slurs, websites displaying self-harm photos, or pornographic videos.
Whatever the haunting content, what if you suspect my child is looking at inappropriate things and is struggling and having psychological problems after seeing something terrible online? First of all, stay calm.
The purpose of being calm is to make the child feel that they can come to you if a similar situation occurs in the future. Besides, being calm also helps you to be more discerning when looking for ways to solve problems.
You should gently ask your child about what they have seen and how they feel. The intention is to try to get them to open up and talk about it to help them process whatever is causing them distress.
When your child is too afraid to tell you
Remember that many children will not tell adults what they have seen or how they feel. They may also be embarrassed or worried that they won’t be able to use their device anymore.
If your child has changed dramatically, either way, it could be a sign that your child is suffering. You want to make sure you’re monitoring your child’s condition by noticing if they wake up at night or have any other behavioral changes.
Explain that some things online are unlikely to be true
It can be helpful to explain to your child that not all information on the internet is real or helpful, and much of it is pretend and made up for adults. You could try to explain that a lot of pictures and videos online – like movies – are exaggerated versions of real-life and are designed to be shocking.
When your child realizes that the above haunting content was not made for her and that it can be really scary, it can’t hurt your child.
If your child has seen the footage or images from a scary real-life event – such as a terrorist attack – you should reassure your child that we live in a very safe country or emphasize the rarity of such events.
Pay attention to abnormal psychological manifestations
If you begin to notice symptoms of distressing news effects such as traumatic stress or other distressing symptoms (e.g., anxiety, trouble sleeping, nightmares, increased arousal, feelings of helplessness, difficulty not thinking about horrible events, depressed mood, distress, etc.), try to:
- Reduce the amount of news or media your kids are watching. Sometimes it’s also helpful to take time to temporarily isolate your child from the media
- Increase the number of positive activities in your child’s life (e.g., watching movies, reading books, watching programs that bring joy).
- Participate in activities that help your child feel secure and secure (spending time with loved ones, camping, participating in arts activities, exercising, etc.)
- Talk to a counselor or trusted individual about what your child is experiencing.
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