How to deal with inappropriate content

If your child has stumbled across adult content, explore our guide to supporting them

Seeing inappropriate content at a young age can leave children feeling confused and unable to process what they have seen or experienced. Get advice on how to support them and help them recover.

What to do if a child sees explicit adult content online
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By putting a few simple measures in place you can manage access to inappropriate content and help your child focus on experiencing the best of the internet. Here are some things you can do

Your home broadband is the root of your child’s internet access and you can access the parental controls to set acceptable limits on the content your child can view.

If your home broadband is used by your family, then you may want to set parental controls on just the search engines they use.

Make use of the parental controls available on your child’s device to manage what, and how, they share content online and interact with others.

Activate the safety measures offered by different sites; social media sites like Facebook have privacy settings that will help prevent your child seeing unsuitable advertising.

By talking to your child about their interests you can help them find suitable sites and apps to use. Review these sites as they get older.

Give your child the tools to know when and how to report any content that may be upsetting on the platforms they use. Organisations like CEOP and IWF can help remove and deal with reports of sexual images of children online.

4 quick tips to deal with inappropriate content

Know when and how to report inappropriate content

If anyone or anything makes your child feel scared, confused or uncomfortable, empower them to report it. That might include using platform reporting functions or talking to you (or both).

Even if they are unsure about a person’s intention, they should report. No one will know they took that action, and it could protect them and others from potential harm. It’s better to over report than under report.

If someone has acted inappropriately towards your child, particularly in a sexual way, you should report it immediately to CEOP.

Stay calm and talk about it

If your child views inappropriate content — by accident or on purpose — remember to stay calm, especially if they brought it up themselves.

Let them think about their responses and lead the conversation. Although difficult, try not to jump to conclusions or react rashly. You want them to feel comfortable coming to you for future issues too.

Work out together how to remove content and make amends for any harm caused. And if they find it hard to talk to you, let them know they can always contact a confidential helpline like Childline or The Mix if they need more support.

Find a support system

Regardless of what your child has viewed, you might need support for yourself. It’s important to remember that you’re not alone, and there are likely other parents dealing with similar issues.

You can explore our own parent stories or our list of resources for parents and carers to get support.

Reach out to your child's school

If your child comes across inappropriate content at school or via another student, it’s important to involve their school.

Mum, Emma, recounts a student sending her daughter a violent video on the bus. “Once they knew,” says Emma, “the schools were very good about it, and the bus company got involved. Also, the young people themselves were spoken to at school and there were consequences.” Read her full story here.

Involving the school will help you share the responsibility with other trusted adults. Additionally, they will likely have previous similar experiences to draw on and will know how best to proceed.

When to report adult content

Some online spaces are designed for adults only while others allow children as well. Regardless of the site, platform or app, there are Terms of Service or similar documents that outline what is and is not okay to share.

For social media platforms that allow users aged 13+, their Terms of Service will clearly outline which content is inappropriate. Most often, this include nudity and violence.

If your child comes across content that makes them uncomfortable on social media or other spaces that children can legally access, they should report it to the platform.

Additionally, if someone directly sends your child a message that includes inappropriate content, including videos or photos, they should tell you.

You can then decide whether you need involve a platform, teachers or even police.

How do I report inappropriate content?

If you or your child come across any content that is illegal, incites violence or hatred, here is what you can do to report the content:

Reporting indecent images of children: If you or your child come across any illegal sexual images of children report them to the Internet Watch Foundation.

Reporting inappropriate content social: Use our set-up-safe guides to see how to report to the relevant providers e.g. Facebook, YouTube using the ‘flag’ or ‘report’ links near the content.

Reporting hate speech online: Content that incites hatred should be reported via True Vision.

Reporting extremist material: Content which relates to terrorism should be reported via the Counter Terrorism Internet Referral Unit.

Report any content you’re concerned about, for example, sexual or violent content that appears in adverts, films, television programmes or video games, using Ofcom.

If you want to report any other issues, take a look at the information on our Report Issue page.

SWGfL Report Harmful Content

How to talk about it

If your child does stumble across something inappropriate online, it’s important to talk with them about it.

Firstly, establish whether if they stumbled onto the content accidentally or were simply curious and went looking for it. If an accident, reassure them that it’s not a bad thing and show understanding. Stay calm and discuss what they have seen and how it has made them feel to assess what emotional support they may need.

If they went looking for it, have an honest conversation about why they felt the need to. Approaching the conversation with calm and openness can help them think critically about their actions and how it might impact them.

Alternatively, if your child doesn’t feel comfortable talking to you about what they saw, encourage them to talk with a counsellor or helpline like Childline.

Protecting children and young people from inappropriate content online

My child is actively searching for adult content

If you’re concerned that your child is searching for content that is inappropriate, the first step is to have an open and frank conversation about what they are viewing.

  • Stay calm and try to find out what makes them want to access and watch this content.
  • It’s important to not threaten to take away devices as it may drive this behaviour underground and stifle future conversation about what they do online.
  • If they feel uncomfortable talking to you, give them contact details for organisations like Childline to talk about the issues and get some impartial advice.
  • If they are watching extreme content or actively taking part in forums which incite self-harm, it may be helpful to reach out to an organisation like Young Minds parent helpline who can offer advice on where to seek face-to-face support on this issue.
  • Nobody likes to think that their own child could be a cyberbully, but young people can sometimes be drawn into this behaviour without realising the impact of their actions. We have tips and advice on what to do if your child is a cyberbully.

How to access counselling services

If you have any worries about your child’s mental health, talking to your GP is a good start. You can also access advice through the Mental Health Foundation and Mind.

While you can sometimes get support through the NHS, many local counselling services offer a sliding scale of cost depending on your family income. This can be quicker than accessing support through your GP. For information of counselling services in your area visit the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy and make sure your child knows about Childline and other helplines.

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