Advice for parents – what to do if your child sees something upsetting online

09 Jan 2018 Becca Cawthorne

Along with the many positive things which young people may see or experience online, they may also encounter things which may worry or upset them. This could be anything from a scary picture or hateful comment, to something which is intended for an adult audience or potentially even illegal content.

There are a number of ways that young people could find such content; they may stumble upon it by following links,, downloading unknown files, misspelling website addresses or even by knowingly looking for it. However if they come across this content it could leave them feeling worried, confused or upset. Just last week a popular YouTuber came under fire for posting a video blog with scenes which could may have upset younger viewers.

So how can I prevent my child from seeing this type of content?

Parental controls can be a helpful way to reduce the chances of your child seeing harmful content but they should never replace having open conversations about what your child is doing online. Our conversation starters can help get you started.

There are a variety of different tools which you can use to block content from your child’s device.

Firstly, you can place parental controls on your home wifi which will cover all devices accessing the internet. These controls are provided free of charge by your internet service provider and you can find out more information on how to set these up by visiting our guide for parents and carers.

There are also parental controls provided by your child’s mobile phone network and there is information on how to do so on Internet Matters.

You can also make use of parental controls at a device level. To find out how visit our Parents Guide to Technology and the Internet Matters interactive house tool.

What can I do if my child has seen something upsetting online?

Here are our top tips for supporting your child:

1. Don’t get mad, get curious

Remaining calm and asking questions like ‘how did you get to that?’ or ‘what did you click on?’ will help you to understand how the content has appeared in the first place. Children will often remember the immediate response from an adult and remaining calm and open will show them that you are someone they can turn to for help.

2. Try not to place blame

It may be that your child has clicked on something by mistake or even gone looking for the content on purpose but it is still important to remain calm and be supportive. Children are curious and may hear about things from others that they later search for without realising what they will be exposed to.

3. Know where to go for more information

Going online does come with its risks and some of these can often feel like daunting topics to cover with children but there is a wealth of information to support you. Visit the UK Safer Internet Centre’s Parents and Carers page for tips, advice, guides and resources to help keep your child safe online. The NSPCC also provide advice on their website for talking about difficult topics. Netsafe also have a great guide to helping young people who have been exposed to upsetting content online.

If you want advice on a specific situation then you can always contact a parents helpline:

  • NSPCC – The NSPCC helpline is for anyone who is worried about the safety of a child 0808 800 5000
  • YoungMinds – YoungMinds is a UK charity who focus on the wellbeing and mental health of young people 0808 802 5544.
  • Family Lives – Family Lives is a national family support charity providing help and support in all aspects of family life 0808 800 2222.

4. Know who your child can go to for help

There are lots of ways your child can get support if they see something upsetting online and it’s important to make them aware of the different avenues of support. In addition to family and school support, children can contact helplines for advice:

  • Childline – Childline is a confidential service offering support to children under the age of 19 with any issue they are concerned about either online or by the phone 0800 1111.
  • The Mix – The Mix offer advice and support for anyone under the age of 25 either online or by the phone 0808 808 4994.
  • Papyrus – Papyrus is a charity which seeks to support young people who may be struggling with suicidal thoughts 0800 068 4141.  

If you work with children and have an online safety concern you can contact the Professionals Online Safety Helpline (POSH) via or 0344 3814772.

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