De-escalating and responding to harmful online challenges
Online challenges, viral stories, hoaxes, or digital ghost stories can commonly appear online through social media or other online platforms. The ‘challenges’ themselves can vary but often encourage individuals to harm themselves, others, or property in the real world. They are often created to cause alarm and have been designed to seem enticing or exciting for young people.
Best practices for parents and carers
Online challenges are deemed successful when they cause panic. Don’t get caught up in the panic and take a step back before acting any further. A calm and collected manner can help prevent the spread of unnecessary worry and panic.
Don’t name it
Warning others about an online challenge may seem like the smart thing to do but naming it can inadvertently direct other people to it. Sending warnings can draw unwanted attention towards the challenge and the potential harm it can bring. Minimise the exposure and don’t give your child something to look for!
Stop the spread of harm by reporting it online. Social media sites and other platforms should direct users to report content that is harmful. If you want further advice around content that is legal but harmful, visit Report Harmful Content. You should also alert relevant authorities if you are concerned about real-world offline harm that a challenge is potentially causing.
Have open conversations
Children and young people can encounter online challenges that may cause upset, they may also see challenges that may initially seem ‘fun’ but could actually cause real offline harm. Ensure that you or someone your child can trust is available to talk. Try to de-escalate the problem without causing more worry and know where to go for further support such as correct reporting channels, or emotional support services such as The Mix. Discussing our online lives can allow family members to feel confident to come forward for support. This can also help in preventing online challenges from growing.
Best practices for schools
Develop critical thinking
Encourage students to question how real or trustworthy online challenges are when they appear so they can learn to ignore them and not engage.
Encourage open discussion
Be proactive in encouraging students to come forward if they have seen something harmful online either to their parents or professionals who work with them.
Know who to report to
Ensure that you are aware of who to go to in your school or organisation if you have concerns about an online challenge incident. This may be a head of year/department, a member of the senior leadership team, or the Designated Safeguarding Lead.
Helpful support from the UK Safer Internet Centre around responding to online challenges
Advice for schools responding to online challenges
Read our article on the latest advice for schools and other education settings
Exploring Critical Thinking Online
Read our article about how children and young people can develop their critical thinking skills.
New think tank report aimed at ‘turning tide of online child sexual abuse’ draws on IWF data
The Police Foundation has published a new report, focusing on what can be done to “turn the tide” on online…
SWGfL launching ‘tech for good’ platform for victims of online abuse
SWGfL is launching a ground breaking tech driven platform Minerva, making it easier for victims of online abuse to get…
A million of the worst child sexual abuse images graded by ‘elite’ taskforce
A million of the worst images of child sexual abuse have been turned into digital fingerprints in an “unprecedented” drive…
Frequently asked questions on
Still have questions?
Maybe one of our helplines is the right place for you.
Be in the know
You’ll get knowledge, skills and tools to make the internet safer
for young people at your care. Each sent once per month.