Have you asked your child: ‘What’s the worst thing you have seen online?’

Have you asked your child: ‘What’s the worst thing you have seen online?’
Have you asked your child: ‘What’s the worst thing you have seen online?’

Devices, always connected to the internet, play a significant role in the childhood of our youngest generations.  There’s so much that is good in this, and so much also that is an outright threat to their mental and emotional well-being.  You might think that the worst of this is cyberbullying or exposure to pornography, but unfortunately, the internet is also awash in violent and gory, cruel and upsetting content.

Many parents don’t grasp or fully consider the vastness of internet content, some of it specifically linked to children’s interests.  A shocking example of this was brought to light in the latest episode of the FYI play it safe podcast, Sip the Tea. A young tween recounts how he was an ardent My Little Pony fan when he was little and how he inadvertently stumbled upon animated content showing the disturbing torture and massacre of the little ponies he loved.  Years later, this childhood shock and horror is still on his mind.

Rachelle Best, founder of FYI play it safe says, “When we planned the production of our Sip the Tea podcast, I knew that we were going to get some real stories about pornography and cyberbullying but I didn’t realise the full extent of exposure to the upsetting content our children have come across.  I didn’t realise that the most loaded question I had to ask would be: ‘What is the worst thing you have seen online?’. Every answer I got held a shock for me, and I would have to compose myself consciously.  The range, and the amount of upsetting content out there is unbelievable. The vast majority of exposure to upsetting content came from links passed onto them or from Discord servers inviting them to participate.  The trouble is that once you have consumed certain content, then the algorithms take over and play a major role in feeding more and more of this extreme, upsetting content.”

The Sip the Tea podcast is going ‘behind the screens’ of South African children and bringing to light the real-life experiences in their digital lives.  Through skilful and sensitive guided conversations, Rachelle is succeeding in providing parents and educators not just with an expanded view and deeper insights, but also practical advice on how to improve protecting kids online.  Key to this is fostering open communications between tweens, teens and the important adults in their lives.  Across the wide-ranging first season of Sip the Tea, Rachelle shows that our children want to have opportunities to safely have conversations about their digital lives and their disturbing experiences.  Threats of taking away their devices or being shamed for stumbling across certain content inhibit or completely shut down these opportunities.  Parents need to rethink their strategies for keeping their kids safer online.  Stepping away from judgement and punishment enables parents to have trusted, open conversations with their children.  This presents more chances to know what your children are experiencing and gives parents more opportunities to help their children process upsetting content.

The Sip the Tea episode on upsetting content is an eye-opener.  When you put a device in their hands, no parents imagines that their child might see a live stream of someone committing suicide.  But this happened to a South African boy when he was just thirteen years of age.  The person was not a stranger – it was his best friend.

Rachelle says, “Children are born curious.  If you send them a link, they will click on it.  Unless you talk regularly to your child about the scope of upsetting content on the internet, and unless you have a real intention to raise a responsible digital citizen, chances are high that they will be exposed to upsetting content, and they may also share it.  It’s important that parents have hard conversations with their kids about what’s out there, why it is wise to avoid it and how to do that.  Children are not just curious, they are also impressionable, and unfortunately, exposure to upsetting content can have long-lasting effects.”

Research has shown that exposure to horror, violence, cruelty, and gore can significantly disrupt children’s well-being.  Impacts include fearfulness and anxiety, sleeplessness and nightmares, trauma response and post-traumatic stress, as well as behaviour change.  These may be short-term consequences, but a long-term effect may be desensitisation and diminishing of natural empathy, kindness and sensitivity to others.

To learn more about the platforms that are the main sources of upsetting content, and how and why it goes viral, tune into Sip the Tea.

Parents, principals, teachers, and community leaders are invited to join the free webinar Sip the Tea – Unfiltered truth from our children on 8 February 2024.  FYI play it safe CEO, Rachelle Best will be reviewing the findings and learnings from Season 1 of Sip the Tea and discussing social media and the apps our children are using; stranger danger and online grooming; exposure to explicit and upsetting content; and cyber bullying.

Register now for the free Sip the Tea – unfiltered truth from our children webinar on Zoom:

10:00 – 11:30am Session

18:00 – 19:30pm Session

You can find Sip the Tea on all major podcasting platforms, including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, and more.

Episode 1 Teens and technology

Episode 2 Social Media and the apps our children are using

Episode 3 Stranger danger & online grooming

Episode 4 Pornography

Episode 5 Pornography addiction

Episode 6 Gaming

Episode 7 Cyber bullying

Episode 8 Upsetting content

For more information visit www.fyiplayitsafe.com