Teenagers spend a lot of time browsing social media, but not all the content they see is harmless. Just like exploring the real world, there are some dark corners and offensive words out there that we need to learn how to respond to. If your teen doesn’t know how to react to inappropriate content, it could disturb them. Here we’ve outlined 5 types of intense content that your teen is likely exposed to on social media, so you can have constructive conversations about how to navigate the unpleasant.
Online bullying is a significant type of inappropriate content because it targets your teen directly. Not all teens experience online bullying, but most teens agree that social media companies and their schools aren’t doing enough to address the issue and protect people. In might surprise you that parents are rated as the best resource for dealing with cyber-bullying by teenagers, so it’s important that you talk to your teen about it.
It’s important to be proactive about cyberbullying by asking your teen about it before they come to you because it is easy for a teen to hide the fact that they are being bullied. Plus, they might be embarrassed or uncomfortable, making it difficult to discuss openly.
You could try making yourself available by telling your teen that if they encounter any bullying, you’ll be there to help them get past it. If the bullying is coming from peers, you might be able to get involved by reporting it to the school or the bully’s parents. If it’s coming from strangers online, you can use it as a learning opportunity to teach your teen how to deal with conflict.
Violence and Gore
Another kind of inappropriate content is violence and gore, which can be really intense because unlike the movies, it might be real on social media. It sounds weird, but some people really get a kick out of sending this kind of disturbing content out unsolicited. You might consider telling your teen that graphic, bloody images might circulate the internet, but it doesn’t make them normal.
It’s not just harmful in the short term, if your teen is exposed to gory content regularly, it can give them a skewed worldview that this type of content is common, and that most people encounter violence regularly. Since teens have trouble framing information, it’s critical to bring it up. While there is violence in the world, it’s important to tell your teen that it’s not okay to promote this bad behaviour online and to try to avoid images or videos of it, as not to imitate it or become desensitized to it.
Let’s say an unsavoury image leaves a mental scar on your teen. In this case, putting filters on what websites they can access might be a beneficial way to move forward. It’s not 100% effective at blocking undesirable content, but it’s better than nothing. Additionally, you may want to seek help from a counsellor to help your teen process any lasting negative memories of the content.
Chances are, your teenager has encountered some form of pornography on social media. It’s all over the place and there’s really no way to prevent your teen from accessing it. However, it can be problematic when your teen is exposed to pornography when they’re not searching for it, or when they spend too much time looking at it.
This is another instance where adding parental controls on iPhones, laptops, or gaming devices might help to block this content, but it’s never going to be 100% effective.
We suggest that you tell your teen that pornography is not an accurate representation of sex or healthy relationships and that they shouldn’t confuse fantasy with reality. It’s also important to talk about the dangers of sending nude photos through social media as there’s a risk of them becoming public and causing harm. Additionally, if your teenager is taking or receiving indecent photos of underage teens, it can be considered a criminal offence.
Social media has allowed some communities to form around hatred, such as racist or sexist online groups. When your teen comes across these, they could be inspired to join a hate group or could be deeply offended and become angry. Either way, it’s important to talk to your teen about the freedom of speech and how to engage in constructive dialogues with people who have different opinions.
Plus, we think you should talk about how hate isn’t constructive and can cause a lot of harm, so it’s best to avoid extreme groups that aren’t willing to discuss their beliefs respectfully. It’s easy to get sucked into an online debate with ‘trolls,’ who only look to get a rise out of strangers on the Internet. You might want to teach your teen that fighting these groups is exactly what these groups are baiting your teen to do, and it might be more impactful to report the groups. It’s easy to report people or groups on social media, usually, you have to look for the ‘flag’ icon and send a short write-up of why you’re filing a report.
Social media can be a place to share dangerous content, such as tutorials for harmful behaviours. Your teen might come across information about how to harm themselves or others. For example, it can be harmful for your teen to learn about methods of suicide, taking drugs, or committing crimes. You might not be able to prevent your teen from knowing about these things, but you can have a conversation about how it makes them feel and how they react to such content. If your teen feels attracted to dangerous behaviour, that might be something to bring up with a counsellor.
It’s Not All Cupcakes and Puppies
There’s a lot of intense content on social media too, that can have a negative effect on your teen. Chances are, your teen isn’t going to be the one to start this unpleasant conversation. That’s way it’s critical to bring up these types of content with your teen so you can discuss what makes them uncomfortable and how to get past it.
Eric M. Earle is the founder of Tutor Portland. He used to struggle with mathematics himself, but studied math intensely in his early 20’s and became the premier math tutor in Portland, Oregon. He focuses on improving students’ math grades to better their college acceptance rates.