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When your child has a negative experience online

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Online Safety Online safety

Sometimes, no matter how hard you try to protect your child, things can go wrong. Here’s some advice on how to spot the signs that your child is having a bad experience online, support them, and report inappropriate content online.

Signs things aren't right

If your child is having or has had a bad experience online, they may feel too upset or embarrassed to talk to you about it – even if you’ve told them they can tell you anything. So it’s important to keep an eye out for signs that something may have happened to distress them:

  • Being withdrawn or more quiet than usual.
  • Getting angry when you try to go near their device.
  • Avoiding their device all of a sudden.
  • Mood swings.
  • Issues with sleeping and their mental health.
  • A new behaviour from your child which doesn’t have an obvious explanation.

Of course these signs are just a guide. But as a parent, you know your child best so trust your gut feeling if you feel like something might be wrong.



Supporting your child if they've seen something inappropriate or upsetting

If your child tells you that they’ve seen something inappropriate or upsetting, or that they’ve felt unsafe online, it’s important to let them know that it’s not their fault. You are their safe space here, so calmly encourage them to talk to you about the incident and how it made them feel.

If you’ve not already done so, make sure all the privacy settings and parental controls are up to date on the devices, apps and websites they use, to help prevent this kind of thing happening. The Internet Matters website will take you step by step through the process of setting up parental controls and privacy settings across all of the networks, gadgets, apps, and sites that your child uses, to help keep them safer online.

You can also encourage your child to look at the Childline website, which has a range of great advice articles. Childline’s Calm Zone is packed with tools and activities to help your child de-stress and discover new techniques that can support them when they’re feeling down. Young people can also talk about their worries with others on the Childline message boards.

Help dealing with a negative incident online

Illustration of a father holding a screen showing the Cyber First Aid

Illustration of a father holding a screen showing the Cyber First Aid

If you find out your child has had a negative online incident you may well be overwhelmed by strong feelings, from shock and anger to frustration and helplessness. In order to support your child, it’s important to be able to manage your own emotions and reactions.

The Cyber First Aid Kit can help you do this by leading you through the steps you can take if your child has had a negative incident online, including taking time to look at your own emotions, supporting your child to manage their feelings and getting further help.

Getting support

If your child sees something online that upsets or worries them, it’s important that you both know where you can get further support.

If you’re worried about your child or need advice, you might want to call the NSPCC helpline on 0808 800 5000 or Upstream on 0808 1000 900.

How to report inappropriate online content

Seeing distressing online content or dealing with online abuse can be very upsetting. You might be tempted to delete messages, images or social media accounts and hope it all goes away. That’s understandable, but if you report it, you’ll show your child how they can empower themselves against online bullies and people who upload offensive content. You might even be helping someone else avoid the same thing happening to them.

Here are some things you can do:

  • If you’re worried about online abuse or the way someone is communicating with your child online, you can report it through the National Crime Agency’s Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) command. Children can also report inappropriate content themselves.
  • You can report distressing online content to the Report Harmful Content website, including threats, bullying, suicide or self-harm content, violent content and porn.
  • Children can report nude images and videos of themselves online and get them removed through the Childline website.
  • You can also report distressing content seen on social media directly to the platform you saw it on. Go to the platform’s help section to find out what to do.
  • You should report child sexual abuse content to the Internet Watch Foundation.
  • In more extreme circumstances, you should contact Police Scotland. If you feel someone is abusing, exploiting or likely to exploit a child or children, or you believe a child or young person is at risk of being a victim, call Police Scotland on 101. If you think they may be in immediate danger, dial 999 and speak to the police immediately. The Police Scotland website has more information on what happens when you make a call, and how to get in touch by text or via contact Scotland-BSL. 

Last updated: 2 Feb, 2023