Weeks like this one remind us why awareness campaigns like R U OK Day are important. Again, we have been reminded of the tragedy of suicide and how its impact reaches far beyond its victims.
The media’s coverage of the viral TikTok video has left many parents concerned about their children’s exposure to traumatic content online.
There are many questions to be answered and a lot of avenues of support. Here are some answers and helpful resources if you are trying to work out how to talk to your child about traumatic online content.
Should I ask my child if they’ve seen the video?
eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant advises against drawing young people’s attention to the issue. If your child has not seen the video, raising the topic could cause unnecessary worry, distress or increase their curiosity about the video. Instead, monitor your child’s demeanour and behaviour for any changes, particularly those who may be considered more vulnerable or at risk. If you want to talk about it, raise the conversation generally, asking about both their online or offline activities. Parents should keep an open dialogue with their children about their online activity.
How do I talk to someone about their mental health?
If you are concerned that your child or loved one is thinking about suicide or has been triggered by online content, have a conversation. Most people are scared that they will say the wrong thing and make it worse, so they avoid the conversation. This is not true. Initiating the conversation will allow the person an opportunity to express their thoughts and feelings and ask for support. For more specific guidance on how to conduct a conversation about mental health and suicide, follow the links below.
How can I comfort my child who is upset by the video?
A young person may be significantly upset by what they have been exposed to online. It is not possible to unsee what we are exposed to. So how can we help alleviate their distress?
1. Express care. Reassure your child they are loved, valued and safe.
2. Normalise feelings. It’s natural to want to get rid of unpleasant feelings. We often say things like; “It’s okay, don’t be sad” or “chin up”. However, our emotions are signals to our minds and bodies that tell us something. It is normal to emotionally respond to inappropriate content online. Having a “yucky” feeling tells us that what we saw was not okay. It’s not about getting rid of the “yuck” feeling but working out what we should do when we experience that feeling.
3. Encourage positive activity. This is a good time to take a break from the online world. Suggest an ‘offline break’ to do something that will make your child feel better, taking a walk, playing with the dog, doing some art or cooking a meal, the options are endless.
4. Invite further conversation. Keep the communication channels open, allowing your child an opportunity to keep talking, if it’s helpful.
5. Keep an eye out. As mentioned above, monitor your child’s ongoing behaviour and demeanour, if you notice a persistent change, follow it up.
How can I protect my child from harmful images, videos and online commentary?
The internet is a big place full of wonderful and horrible things. Trying to eliminate the bad content is like a game of whack-a-mole; just when you hit one on the head three more pop up. Understandably, parents often feel helpless when it comes to managing their children’s activity online. But, there are a number of great organisations that are empowering parents to keep their kids safe online. The eSafety Commission is my first port of call when I want information about internet safety for young people. Parental controls might be an option for your family, restricting certain content and websites while keeping parents up to date on their child’s online activity. The Communications Alliance LTD has a list of reputable products on the market. The Australian Council for Children and Media helps parents determine what will be appropriate content/platforms for their child.
Should I ban my child from social media?
It may be helpful to keep your child away from social media for a time, to allow the platforms opportunity to remove the explicit content, but also to give your child a break to positively work on their mental health. However, for many young people around the world, social media is a vital connection to their network of friends. Perhaps less of an “All or Nothing” approach and more of a healthy balance is needed. The eSafety Commission has loads of excellent information for young people regarding healthy use of social media. As a parent you know your child best and should feel empowered to make decisions for the wellbeing of your child.
What should I teach my children to do about traumatic content online?
We cannot avoid or block every piece of inappropriate content online; our power lies within our response to these images, videos and commentary. Here are some steps to respond to traumatic material.
1. Close the video/image. Just because you started the video doesn’t mean you have to finish it. If your feelings are telling you something is wrong – get out. Don’t share/repost it.
2. Report the content. All social media platforms have a reporting function, use it. The eSafety Commission also has a reporting page where you can make official complaints about online content. You can also call the police on 000.
3. Tell a trusted adult. It’s important your child shares any inappropriate online activity with a trusted adult (parent, school teacher/support worker). This will ensure they receive the support they need, and the problem is dealt with properly. They should know that they won’t get into trouble for telling someone about what they experienced.
4. Unfriend/Block. Children should never connect online with people they don’t know. However, sometimes even known friends can share and upload inappropriate content. It is okay to unfriend or block someone who is willfully sharing harmful material.
If you require extra support, please don’t hesitate to talk to someone about it. R U OK is as much a question for us as it is for our young people.
Lifeline 13 11 14
Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636
Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467
About the author…
Tess is a former school chaplain and youth pastor with 15 years of experience in youth work. She now serves as SU QLD’s Children and Youth Program Team Leader, delivering training and professional development to chaplains and youth workers. She holds a bachelor of communications and diploma of youth work.