How to help your child if something goes wrong online



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From sexting and gaming addiction to self-harm and upsetting content, how you respond to your child will make all the difference in the long term.

Just like real-life, the digital world presents children with challenges to overcome. Young people are likely to run into trouble at some point, but the good news is that it’s not a catastrophe. These bumps in the road can help your child reflect on their experience and become more resilient.

What’s crucial is the way parents respond, so it’s helpful to consider these three steps if your child runs into problems:


1. Know – find out exactly what the problem is.

2. React – in a way that lets your child explain their situation openly and feel able to tell their side of the story.

3. Recover – pass on the learnings from the experience to help your child make better decisions.

What to do if… your child has been sexting

Know: Sending or receiving sexual images to or from a child is illegal – but context and common sense are important. Schools and police forces have guidance that allows them to consider the context and your child’s best interests when dealing with these incidents.

React: Stay calm. Your child might feel embarrassed and worried, so however tempting it is to get cross, it’s important to remain composed and provide reassurance. If you can, find out where these images exist and try to have them removed and deleted. NCA-CEOP has created a guide that can help you. 

Recover: Decide who else should be informed and then take practical steps to limit any negative impact. It’s important in time to speak to your child about what happened and help them to understand that sending images like this can put them at risk. 

You can find further information about sexting on the Thinkuknow website.

What to do if… your child has seen upsetting content online

Know: Children of any age can find things online that upset, confuse or worry them. This can lead to a whole barrage of questions about anything from an offensive video to pornographic images and violence.

React: Take your lead from them: ask them to explain what they’ve seen, and how they found it. They will have questions, so offer straightforward, honest answers (while being careful not to overwhelm them with too much information) to help them deal with whatever has upset them. If you are unsure how to respond, sites like Parent Info can provide additional advice.

Recover: Leave the conversation open and reassure your child that they can come back to you if they have further questions or concerns. 

What to do if… your child has been self-harming

Know: ‘Deliberate self-harm’ can take many forms, from fairly minor injuries to deliberate burning or cutting of skin. It usually occurs in response to feelings of distress, anxiety or lack of confidence, but can also be connected to other mental health problems.

React: Discovering your child has self-harmed can spark a range of difficult emotions for a parent to deal with – but it is important to stay calm. Give your support and offer a chance to talk, but don’t pressurise them with too many questions. Ask if there are any issues or online activities that are upsetting your child and, if so, help them find a solution.

Recover: Many children find their own solutions to their distress or self-harm issues, and some confide in friends, teachers or school counsellors. It’s therefore important to have regular conversations with your child about their mood, feelings and online activities.

Samaritans report that self-harm is the main reason people use their text messaging service. Anyone can send an SMS text message to Samaritans on 07725 90 90 90.

What to do if… you think your child is addicted to gaming

Know: Online games can be addictive, especially immersive multiplayer games where there is no ‘pause’ option and therefore no natural point to take a break. The good news is that even if your child shows signs they’re addicted, adverse effects are relatively minor and can normally be sorted quickly.

React: Consider if and how gaming is affecting your child. Is it affecting schoolwork, mood, sleep and/or social/sporting hobbies? Are they playing every day and for long periods (3+ hours at a time)? If the answer to these is yes, it’s time to look for ways to help your child cut down.

Recover: Create patterns that allow your child to continue playing what they enjoy, but in moderation. Maybe make a deal where they can play for 2 hours once their homework is done. Encourage them to play in groups, take regular breaks and to keep up sports or other hobbies. 

Read more about gaming addiction on the Parent Zone website.


This article is by Parent Zone, the experts in digital life.