Inappropriate content

12 Sep 2018

The Internet is unfortunately full of content that might be obscene or otherwise unsuitable for your child to look at.

What are examples of inappropriate content?

  • Content promoting hate based on race, religion, disability, sexual preference, etc.
  • Content promoting violent extremism
  • Sexually explicit content
  • Real or simulated violence
  • Content advocating unsafe behaviour, such as self-harm or eating disorders

How can I stop my child from accessing inappropriate content?

Your child might come across inappropriate content both on purpose, by searching it out, or accidentally, if it pops up on screen. To stop their access to inappropriate content, you can take two approaches – targeting the technology and the child.

For the technology:

  • Install filters, which you can download by searching ‘family filtering software’
  • Use parental controls, which can filter content, allow you to monitor your child’s use, and even block the use of specific sites
  • Install an ad-blocker, as inappropriate content often pops up in advertisements
  • Report offensive content to the site administrator, using ‘flag’ or ‘report’ links near the content

For the child:

  • Have an open, age-appropriate conversation about what content is inappropriate and why - scroll down to see our quick guides to starting these talks
  • Teach them how to react if they stumble upon inappropriate sites, like immediately closing the page, or clicking Control-Alt-Delete if the site doesn’t allow them to exit
  • Encourage them to talk to someone they trust, like yourself, if they have seen something online that upsets or disturbs them
  • Reassure them that you will not take away their devices if they tell you that they have seen something inappropriate
  • Remind them not to click on unfamiliar links
  • Tell them not to respond if someone sends them inappropriate content

My child has seen inappropriate content. What can I do?

  • Have an open conversation about what they saw and how they felt about it
  • Support your child and talk them through their emotions if they are upset or distressed
  • Block the site or report the content on the platform that it appeared
  • If you think someone is targeting your child with inappropriate content, contact the authorities – there are laws in place in Singapore to protect young children from being sexually exploited

My child is sharing inappropriate content. What can I do?

  • Teach them about the harms and dangers of sharing inappropriate content, and ask them questions like, “How would you feel if someone sent you something that upset you?”
  • Tighten your control on their technology through stricter parental controls – you can even download apps that let you view all the messages your child sends on their phone

I don’t know what to say to my child about this! How can I start the conversation?

It’s okay not to know. Inappropriate content online can be a difficult topic for most parents to begin talking about. On the one hand, you want to make sure your child is aware and equipped to deal with the issue so they’re not hurt in the future, and on the other, these conversations can be very awkward. Depending on how old your child is, these conversations will probably sound different too.

The following tips and conversation starters might help you start this discussion. However, ultimately, each family is different – you know the situation and your child best, so say what you think will work with your child.

My child is 3 to 7

You might think that there is nothing to say to your child at this age, but children can accidentally stumble onto a lot online, such as innocently clicking an interesting link that leads them down an unknown website, or highly sexual photo advertisements that pop up on games, not to mention children’s videos that have been hijacked to show violent and gory content.

When your child is so young, it is important to walk the line between protecting your child and not giving them new ideas. If you are sure that your child has not stumbled onto violent or pornographic content, raising the subject might just make them curious. However, your child will find this content as long as they are using digital devices, and it can be difficult for any parent to ensure co-viewing of their media all the time. This is not anyone’s fault: parents are busy, children are curious, and the Internet is impossible to control. Thus, the important thing is to have this conversation early so as to prepare them for the chance of finding such content.

Here are some tips to bear in mind:

  1. Don’t punish them for the things they have seen: at this age, it is very unlikely that your child purposefully sought out such content. Even if they did, punishing them for this might make them less likely to tell you the truth next time. Instead of banning them from using any digital device, try to co-view content with them more often and encourage open communication.
  2. Take the time to talk: these conversations can be uncomfortable, so try make it as comfy as possible by keeping it one-on-one (or two-on-one) in an environment that you both find safe, like your home or even during a long drive down the CTE.
  3. Ask lots of questions: your kids should be dominating the conversation, and that means asking probing questions as well as lots of comforting ones. We give examples below if you’re not sure what these sound like.

For the conversation, make sure they are open to talking to you (after a tantrum or right before bed time are not ideal times) and check with them. Say you have heard from some other Moms and Dads about something, and want to know what they think.

  1. Ask them, “Have you ever seen anything online that looked weird or scary or gross?”
  2. It can be easier for your child to talk about someone else than themselves, so ask, “Has anyone at school ever mentioned seeing something like this?”
  3. If they say yes, you can follow up with, “How did you find it? Did someone show it to you?” At this point, remind them that they aren’t in trouble.
  4. If they say yes, also ask them, “How did you feel when you saw it?” It is normal for a child to feel upset by something like this, especially if it was unexpected. So take the time to comfort them with a comment like, “It’s normal to feel that way, I would too.”
  5. Ask them, “What do you think you should if someone tried to show you something like this again?” Let them come up with a few answers, and guide them to understand that it is bad to look for such content.
  6. Remind them that you are always there to listen and answer their questions.

Since your child is still so young, it is best to take other measures to prevent them from viewing such content. Consider installing parental controls on the devices they use. Also try your best to co-view all content with them.

My child is 8 to 13

It is quite natural for a child this age to be curious about things, especially when they hear about them from their friends. These might even be things that they know they shouldn’t be looking at, like movies rated NC16, pornography, or violent videos that go viral. However, a young girl innocently searching ‘kissing’ on YouTube might not expect the explicit videos that pop up.

It might be awkward to start these conversations, because inappropriate content covers a lot of topics. But it is better for your child to come to you for guidance than the Internet, and having open discussions makes it more likely for them to do so.

Here are some tips to bear in mind:

  1. Take the time to talk: these conversations can be uncomfortable, so try make it as comfy as possible by keeping it one-on-one (or two-on-one) in an environment that you both find safe, like your home or even during a long drive down the CTE.
  2. Ask lots of questions: your kids should be dominating the conversation, and that means asking questions. But be sure not to turn the discussion into an interrogation.
  3. Stay calm: you might be confronting sensitive issues and your child might reveal something that upsets you, but stay calm so that you don’t overreact to anything in the moment.

For the conversation, make sure they are open to talking to you and check with them. Say you have heard from some other Moms and Dads about something, and want to know what they think.

  1. Ask them, “Have you ever seen anything online that looked pornographic or really violent?” If they don’t know what pornographic means, you could say sexual, indecent, or even just describe it as ‘naked people on screen’.
  2. It can be easier for your child to talk about someone else than themselves, so ask, “Has anyone at school or tuition ever mentioned seeing something like this?”
  3. If they say yes, you can follow up with, “How did you find it? Did someone show it to you?” Remind them that they aren’t in trouble so that the conversation continues.
  4. If they say yes, also ask them, “How did you feel when you saw it?” Your child might feel upset or confused, so comfort them. But they might also be curious, so be prepared to answer some questions if they come up.
  5. Explain to them what they have seen, and why you think they are not old enough to view it. For example, if the content is violent or gory, you may want to discuss why hurting people is bad or remind them that violence is never the answer. If the content is pornographic, you could discuss how these images and videos often don’t respect women, or ignore consent. If the content shows substance abuse, such as excessive drinking or smoking, remind them of the harms these habits can bring onto the body. The exact nature of the conversation you have will depend on the issues you are already discussing with your child.
  6. Ask them, “What do you think you should if someone tried to show you something like this again?” Let them come up with a few answers, and guide them to understand that it is bad to look for such content.
  7. Remind them that you are always there to listen and answer their questions.

Since your child is approaching teenage-hood, you are able to answer their questions honestly and discuss more uncomfortable issues with them. Depending on how mature they are, you could begin a conversation about how violence exists in Singapore and why it’s not the right answer to situations. Or introduce them to issues like consent and respect in sex by easy lessons that we always need permission to hug, kiss, or touch someone, and that if someone says ‘no’, we need to listen.

The best way to protect your child from inappropriate content is to talk to them about it. Keep this talk brief, but reassuring. At this age, you can still install parental controls on their digital devices, particularly to keep track of their existing (or very-soon-to-be-existing) social media accounts.

My child is over 14

At this point, chances are that your teenager has come across inappropriate content online. They are figuring out many things and the Internet provides them an infinite amount of information to guide them in that process. However, videos of people being violently injured are not a useful guide to managing anger any more than pornography is a useful guide to sex. This is the risk of a teenager viewing inappropriate content – that it impacts and reduces their views of complex issues, and potentially leads them down paths you don’t want them to walk.

Teenagers can be closed off and defensive, so any ‘Under my roof, you follow my rules’ talk might shut down further conversation. Instead, keep your conversation open and build on the trust you already share.

Start by asking them if they’re open to such a conversation – and if they say no, ask them when they would be okay with such a talk.

  1. Ask them, “Do your friends look at really violent stuff or pornography?”
  2. Also ask them, “Have you ever seen it?”
  3. If they say yes, you can follow up with, “How did you find it? Did someone show it to you?” Remind them that they aren’t in trouble so that the conversation continues truthfully.
  4. Also ask them, “How did you feel when you saw it?” Focus less on what they saw and more on how they felt when they saw it, because this will tell you more about what sort of impact it has on them.
  5. Talk to them about the impact of the content, “Do you ever want to do the things you see online? What about your friends?” Encourage them to consider the sort of effects this content can have on people – watching pornography can create very unhealthy relationships in teenagers, and viewing realistic violent content can desensitize them to real violence in the world.
  6. Ask them, “What do you think you should if someone tried to show you something like this again?” Let them come up with a few answers, and then tell them that you don’t think they should view this content.
  7. Explain why you think they should not view inappropriate content, and discuss ways you can come to a compromise (if they disagree) and ways you can enforce it (if they agree), such as through enabling safe-search options on their digital devices or installing parental controls which block certain websites.
  8. Remind them that you are always there to listen and answer their questions.

With your teenager, their maturity is growing at the same rate as their curiosity to see more of the world. Let this talk be one of many talks you have with them as an on-going question so that you are there to answer their questions, or deal with any issues that suddenly spring up. Check in with them so that they know you are there to listen and help.

Another thing to consider when having these talks with your teens is to also have talks about issues like sexting, body image, and the social pressures of being constantly online. These often come up together, and you can expand on these topics based on how responsive and mature your teen is.