The internet is a public and open place, one where anybody can post and share content. This is all part of the fun, but what happens if your child sees something they shouldn’t? CEOP offers advice
Your child might see something online that is intended for adults, which could confuse or upset them. This might be violent or sexual content, extreme opinion or anger, or inappropriate advertising.
What is inappropriate?
Inappropriate can mean different things to different people, from swear words to pornographic images or videos, and what is inappropriate for your child will also change as they grow and develop.
Every household will have different ideas on what’s appropriate for their child, so it’s important to discuss this as a family, giving your child examples that you feel are appropriate for their age or development.
What to say
Children are naturally curious. They may well search for information online about subjects they are too embarrassed to talk to you about, don’t understand, that they think will make them laugh or they’ve heard their friends talking about.
No matter how young your child is, if they are using the internet, you will need to talk to them about the kind of things they might see online – good and bad.
This doesn’t mean you have to sit them down to have ‘a big conversation’. Instead, broach the subject during more general chats about using the internet and the whole family’s internet use.
During these conversations it’s important to explain, especially to younger children, what is meant by ‘inappropriate’, using language they will understand.
Point out that they may see things they don’t expect to online – such as pop-up adverts or even by typing in the wrong words when searching for something completely innocent on Google.
‘Children often tell us that a reason they don’t tell a parent or carer when something goes wrong or upsets them online is because they’re worried the adult will over react and take their technology away from them’
Make sure they know that whatever they’ve seen, if it’s upset or confused them, or raised questions, they can always come to you.
Children often tell us that a reason they don’t tell a parent or carer when something goes wrong or upsets them online is because they’re worried the adult will over react and take their technology away from them. Reassure them that they won’t be punished by talking to you.
To help you talk to your child you can read our tips on how to open a difficult conversation.
What can you do to protect them?
There are some simple technical things you can do to limit what children see online:
- Parental controls. These will enable you to filter out pornography and other inappropriate content. You can also use it to set time limits for using the internet and apply age restrictions for games they play. Most major ISPs (internet service providers), like Talk Talk, Sky, BT and Virgin Media, provide free parental controls, as do most devices and games consoles. Find out more about setting them up here.(link is external)
- Set the search engine (eg: Google, Bing, etc.) they use to a ‘safe’ mode. This means that the search engine will look to block any obvious adult content and not provide it in search results.
- YouTube is particularly popular with primary aged children but think about the range of content they can be exposed to on it. Distressing news stories and other adult content will often appear on YouTube. It is all too easy for children to click on related videos and end up watching something aimed at adults so make sure you supervise younger children using it. It is also advisable that you set YouTube search to ‘safe mode’. Read the Thinkuknow YouTube guide for parents for more information.
It’s important to remember that parental controls and filters are just tools. They are not 100% accurate and are no substitute for open and honest conversations with your child.
Tips from Parent Zone if your child tells you they’ve seen something inappropriate online
Although you may be upset, perhaps even angry, that they decided to explore something they shouldn’t have, you won’t want to put them off coming to you for help and support when in need. Try to listen to them as they explain what they found and reassure them that you’ll help.
Talk to them
Your child may have seen something particularly disturbing or upsetting. Ask them to express their feelings so you can help them recover. Keep an eye on them and be aware of any changes in mood or behaviour. Meanwhile, try to help them focus on the positive aspects of going online and show them ways they can avoid the negative as much as possible in future. Children today have to be able to feel confident online and they may miss out on opportunities in the future if they avoid using the internet because of their bad experience.
In some situations, it may be necessary to report the inappropriate or illegal content. For advice on where you can report worrying content your child tells you about, read here. Talk to your child about how they can learn to report and block content themselves, to help build their digital resilience.
The advice published on Parent Info is provided by independent experts in their field and not necessarily the views of Parent Zone or CEOP.
First published: October 2017
Updated: May 2018