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Harmful Online Content


Harmful Online Content: Finding alternatives

It’s very easy for young people to access harmful content online. Although the internet has many benefits, there are areas to be aware of, mainly accidental exposure to harmful content through pop ups or via social media sites.

What is harmful content?

Harmful content can be anything that causes harm to a young person, either because it is offensive, inappropriate or encourages negative behaviour. Examples of this include seeing explicit images, viewing pictures of self-harm, or accidentally clicking on malware and viruses.

Pro-Self-harm or Pro-ED

‘’Pro-self-harm’’ or ‘’pro-eating disorder’’ websites are sites that promote, encourage and post pictures or content explicitly depicting self-harm or people with eating disorders. Initially aimed at supporting those to talk about their self-harm or eating disorders, as they are not monitored professionally, there is no way to keep an eye on what is being posted on these websites, creating a dangerous community online for children and teens to get sucked into.

It is appealing to young people and teens because of the initial anonymity of speaking about difficult topics. However, it is hard to move into a healthy way of coping with mental distress if there are not adults or carers supporting the child or teen. One way to protect your child is to have child secure controls on your Wi-Fi to limit how and when your child accesses the internet. For more information you can read this article from beat.

Talk to Your Child or Teen

It’s important to talk to your child if you suspect they are accessing inappropriate content online. Tell them that you are worried about them and let them know that you are there to help them if they need it. Banning your child from accessing the internet, or confiscating their mobile is not always the best option. If you are going to take away their access to the internet, you need to replace it with something else, for example, a support group or therapy.

If they are on websites that talk about mental illness, it might be a sign they are struggling with their mental health. This might be their only resource for talking about how they feel, if you take this away, you need to replace it with another resource for them.

Get professional help

If you are worried about your child, and feel like they need extra support and help, you can contact your health care professional, your assistance programme or get in touch with your child’s school for further advice and signposting.

Alternatives to social media

There are now over 4 billion users of social media across the globe. Many of them are children and young teens. There are many ways to teach children and young people how to engage in the world without the use of social media and internet. Although it might be daunting to take a break from our devices for a few hours, we would all feel benefits of doing this. Remember, children mimic the attitudes and behaviour of their parents and carers, so make sure that you are demonstrating the behaviour that you want to pass on to them. Here are some things you can do for yourself and to also encourage your children to copy.

Get out in nature

As children and young people spend more time indoors on their devices, they are missing out on the opportunity to explore the world and nature. Here are some benefits of getting out in nature:

  • Instant feeling of wellbeing.
  • Its free!

Ideas for you and your kids:

  • Take a camping trip.
  • Go for a walk.
  • Find a hobby such as surfing, swimming, climbing, etc.
  • Learn survival skills!
  • Take your dog for a walk.
  • Go to the beach or natural place of beauty.
  • Join parent teen activity groups.

You may find some good ideas in this article ‘’88 Things for Bored Teenagers to do at Home’’.

Meditative practices

Social media can make young people feel anxious and decrease their self-esteem. It is important to allow your kids to give their brains a break from judgement and pressure. Try teaching them (and yourself!) some mindfulness practices, this could be walking, colouring, sitting, or tai chi. Explore and make it fun, while in the process you will feel calmer, so will your children!

There may be other spiritual, religious, cultural, or traditional practices that will help you too, that have not been listed. Explore what works for you!


Volunteering is a great way to get both you and your kids involved in the community and focus on something rather than their social media account. Volunteering is a great way to boost self-esteem and increase feelings of wellness.

Outdoor learning

Get your children involved in outdoor learning! There are a range of different activities, such as Forest School, bushcraft, orienteering, earth education, horticulture, Duke of Edinburgh Award, and much more. Explore what clubs or societies you have in your local area or come up with your own ideas.

Take up a sport or a hobby

Encourage your kids to take up a sport or a hobby that they enjoy and makes them feel good. Join in yourself!

Explore indoors

If your child is more introvert, there are still lots of activities they can enjoy on their own or in the comfort of home, such as art, reading, cooking, baking, designing, and colouring.

For more information check out ‘’101 Fun Activities for Kids that Don’t Involve Screen Time’’.

For older children

It will probably be impossible to not let your teen have social media. However, you can encourage times when you do not have mobile phones when with the whole family. For example:

  • Ask your teen not to have their phone at the dinner table.
  • After a certain time at night.
  • On family gatherings or outings.

As your teen gets older, they will need good role models around them. The best thing you can do is role model good behaviour and look after yourself. You will be of no use to your teen if you are physically or emotionally depleted. Learn to trust your teen by having open discussions and allowing them to make choices for themselves. If you are worried about them, let them know. Bear in mind that you must let your teen make up their own choices and mistakes, and be there for them when they need you.

For more resources, go online or visit your health care professional or reach out to your assistance program. Here are some additional resources:

Get Cyber Safe – is a campaign created to help Canadians be aware of online safety practices

Kids Help Phone – Canada’s free online 24/7 support for kids, teens, and young adults in English and French.

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