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What to do if... your child sees illegal content online?


I had a young person contact me yesterday asking for HELP

The young person had been shared a link to a website in which they were pressured to open and look at on insistence from 'friends'. 

The website contained videos of young children and babies being sexually abused among other videos of bestiality and abuse of adults against children. 

The young person was distraught and sickened by what they saw and sought my help on how to have the website removed and taken down.

I've decided to share this story with you so that you can have discussions with your own young people about what to do when they see something that upsets them, scares them or makes them feel uncomfortable online.

Because let's face it, it's not a matter of 'if', but a matter of 'when'. 

First of all, know that this type of occurrence happens A LOT and although it is common amongst young teens and tween boys to share sexually explicit material including pornography, there is NO age or gender that is immune from being shown this type of content. 

If they have access to a device and the internet, there is a high chance that they are going to see something that you wish they didn't. 

A few weeks after starting high school, my daughter reported that the boys in her year group were sharing pornography (specifically anal porn) and talking about it around the school. It was not a surprise to me at all that 11 and 12 year olds were sharing this type of content because of my work in the police, but I know a lot of parents who don't realise and are shocked at how common it is. 

Secondly, because we don't discuss these types of topics with our kids early enough, they are at a disadvantage of what to do when it does happen. 

If we educate our children and give them the tools in order to know how to deal with situations as they arise, we are actually preventing further harm and abuse. 

Because my daughter knew what pornography was and we had talked about how to deal with illegal or inappropriate content, she would come to me if something was shared or she happened to see it and would act accordingly. We would also talk it through so that it didn't leave her feeling upset. 

For instance - when she accidentally saw porn for the first time, she closed down her iPad and came and told me about it (this is what we had talked about from age 8 however, it is now recommended to talk about these topics from age 6).

From there we discussed and talked it through so she could understand what she had seen and when someone shared something inappropriate with my daughter, she would block and report the content and come and tell me. 

We can't stop them from seeing inappropriate or illegal content, but they have more control over the outcome and are less upset by and/or traumatised when they know what to do when they do see it.  

I've had many primary school aged children talk to me after I've presented to their classes about cyber and online safety, wanting to share their own experiences of seeing pornography or videos of things they have felt upset by, needing a safe adult to let them know what to do and that they are ok. 

This is what I want us to help our kids with!

So what does a child do if they see something scary, illegal or inappropriate online?

Firstly, we need to let them know what it is and what to do in order for them to know how to react when they come across it. 

Some ways to talk to your kids about these topics are:

'A lady I follow who teaches kids about this stuff suggested I have a talk to you to see if you know what {insert situation} eg. private pictures, inappropriate content, pornography, nudes, are and do you know what to do if you see them?'

'Have any of your friends every shared {private pictures, nudes, inappropriate photos, pornography} with you or someone else?'

'Do you know what to do if you see something online that has {insert scenario} in it?'

What to do if your child sees inappropriate or illegal content:

1. Tell them that if they see something that is private pictures (anyone nude or semi-nude) to close down the screen so that they can no longer see it. 
2. Tell the child to talk with a safe adult from your safety network (this is a protective behaviours lesson), someone who can help them deal with it and won't make them feel bad or get angry at them.  
3. If there has been any form of online grooming or abuse, take screen shots of the conversations on the device it occurred on for evidence and just in case it's needed (do not forward any images of children to another device as this is considered child exploitation material).
4. Report and block the content and person to the social media or gaming platform if it was on a platform. 
5. Report online grooming or inappropriate behaviour to the Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation -
6. Report inappropriate or illegal websites to the eSafety Commissioners office - 
7. Tell them that if they have any re-occurring bad thoughts or dreams about what they have seen that they should 'change' the channel (so to speak) on their thoughts. When they think of the video or what they've seen that upsets them to change their thoughts and think of something that makes them happy or feel good. When I used to have bad dreams as a kid, I used to think of unicorns and horses, it works well in diverting thoughts in these types of circumstances. 

Be mindful that if our children don't feel safe to tell us, they can hold onto the things they have seen, the corresponding thoughts and feelings which can lead to sleep regression or lack of sleep, depression, mood swings, acting out and hurting others as well as worst case scenarios of harming other children both physically and sexually. 

This is why it is so important for our kids to have tools to not only get help but to know they can talk to someone about it. 

For more help in helping your young people to stay safe online including:

- how to talk to them about 'tough' topics,
- what you need to know to keep them safe online,
- how to have be the guru of devices
- and so much more...

I have created a course just for parents with everything I know about online safety in one place. Parents can do this course in your own time, at your own pace from the comfort of your own home. 

More info about Device Safety 101 here

My book Operation KidSafe - a detective's guide to child abuse prevention contains information, advice and talking points to have 'difficult' conversations with your young people and children not just about device and online safety but also child sexual abuse. This must-have parents guide is filled with everything I know from 10 years in the police. 

Get a copy of Operation KidSafe here