Sexting, Porn And Predators – Uncomfortable Conversations Can Make Kids Safer Online

When it comes to keeping your children safe online, solutions such as parental controls certainly can help.  However, there’s widespread agreement that parents need more than one strategy, and all online safety efforts will be more effective if they are underpinned by open communications between parent and child. 

It’s not hard for parents to have ongoing discussions with their child if they are about a topic like cyberbullying, which spans the physical and digital realms.  However, a number of the online dangers for children and youth are far more sensitive topics for conversation that will test most parents’ levels of comfort, especially when it comes to talking about sex and pornography or suicide and suicide ideation.

Sexting porn and predators

Rachelle Best, the CEO and Founder of FYI play it safe, an AI-powered monitoring app used by families across the world to keep kids safer online, spends a large portion of her working time engaging with parents, teachers, children and youth about the online dangers facing young internet, gaming and mobile app users.  She has a wide-ranging view of how South African parents and their children are either currently tackling or avoiding difficult topics.  

Rachelle says, “Parents have different levels of personal comfort with certain sensitive topics that can inhibit them from starting these conversations or responding appropriately if their children initiate them.  In these cases, the ‘not my child’ syndrome is commonly used to deflect from the need to have a conversation about a topic that is uncomfortable for the parent. 

Typically, I come across those who will insist their child is ‘too young and innocent or naïve’ to have a conversation that is related to sexting or online pornography or child grooming by predators.  Others will say such conversations aren’t necessary because they trust their child to never look at sexually inappropriate content or engage with a stranger or potential predator.”

Parents with ‘not my child’ syndrome’ are at risk of being blind to the ubiquity of online pornography and other content depicting overt adult sexuality.  For instance, latest research shows that while 75% of parents say that they believe their child has never been exposed to pornography, while 53% of children were comfortable admitting that they have been.  It’s likely many more would prefer to deny any engagement with pornography. 

Inappropriate online sexual content is not the only concern; children and teens are also vulnerable when it comes to stumbling across or seeking out content around suicide, suicide ideation, self-harm and violence.  

Furthermore, social media channels are not only online spaces where children and teens may encounter predators. They could meet potentially dangerous strangers in gaming chatrooms or on other communication app platforms as well.  This ever-evolving landscape, where new apps and games are launched daily, makes it difficult for parents to keep up and keep track of all the digital spaces where their children may be active. 

Rachelle says, “This is why open communications forms the bedrock of child online safety.  Parental controls, and advanced monitoring and alert apps such as FYI play it safe are part of the layers of security needed, but one solution alone is unlikely to prevent your child from encountering harmful content.  You have a strong foundation to help keep your children safer online when you are taking an interest in your child’s digital life, talking to them openly about the risks and keeping a conversation going about how best to handle or avoid risks.”

Family discussion

Why Some Parents Avoid Conversations About Difficult Topics With Children

Counselling Psychologist, Lekha Daya says, “There are topics that may trigger shame or a level of discomfort which a parent may not know how to tolerate, causing them to avoid a conversation.  There may also be a gap in parents’ understanding of their teenager’s world because it differs so much from their own experience of youth. 

Some parents may feel inadequate at facilitating conversations about difficult topics and prefer just not to have them.  Others may be resistant to learning about and fully understanding the online world, especially when it comes to grappling with both the positives      and negatives of gaming and social media.  There are parents who have an authoritarian and critical parenting style that does not create room for ease in difficult conversations. In these cases, both teens and parents go into a defensive fight or flight mode where having an honest and open conversation becomes challenging, if not impossible.”

Top Tips For Having Hard Conversations With Your Tweens And Teens

Start By Being Aware Of Yourself

Reflect on your own feelings of discomfort and/or shame that might be causing resistance and avoidance when it comes to dealing with important online safety topics.  It helps to be aware of your own anxiety      in your body when the topic is brought up – such as a tightening in the chest, quickening of the pulse or an urge to fidget.  Lekha says, “Self-awareness is a lifelong process but one that requires commitment from all parents to equip themselves in having difficult conversations. Building self-awareness for yourself as a parent and for your teen starts with understanding that your responses are often from your own childhood experiences and exposure.”

Adjust Your Expectations

A conversation about a hard topic is a challenge, but you don’t have to be ‘perfect’.  Lekha says, “Self-compassion and allowing for one’s own feelings of vulnerability is important.  Know that you will not always get it ‘right’ in difficult conversations, and that’s okay. Sometimes, your teen might seem to have a knack of bringing up a difficult conversation when you feel unprepared. 

Sometimes, you won’t know the answers to their questions. Take the pressure off yourself to have the conversation ‘perfectly’, and forge ahead with it rather than avoid it.  You don’t need to know it all, you can acknowledge what you’re not sure of or don’t know, and then open the conversation up again at a later stage when you’ve found out more. It’s important to be able to say: ‘I might not know all there is to know but my priority is always going to be what is healthy for your growth and happiness’.”

Make A Commitment To Have The Conversations, No Matter Your Discomfort

Lekha says, “Due to its impact on improving your child’s safety online, today’s parents need to make a commitment having these hard conversations.  If you find yourself triggered, very      uncomfortable or especially upset by certain topics, it might be best to seek           support from a mental health professional      to explore underlying reasons for the discomfort,       and develop positive coping skills.” 

Don’t Be Afraid Of Pauses

Lekha says,An important skill is knowing how to pause during difficult conversations and saying, ‘I need to think about this’, before responding with a critical or competitive response. Pausing builds a foundation of patience and models tolerance of discomfort to your teen.”

Appreciate Your Impact As A Positive Role Model

By engaging openly and honestly with your teen around a difficult topic, discomfort and all, you may feel vulnerable, but you are providing the important example that it is healthy to talk about challenging things. Lekha says, “By avoiding      difficult conversations, teens are taught avoidance as a coping mechanism. They are sent the signal that difficult topics are potentially ‘too much to handle’. This can result in various mental health challenges as a result of the suppression of emotion, a strong sense of shame and a lack of belief in oneself.”

In conclusion, Rachelle says, “Personally, I’ve found that once a topic is broached, many children are inclined to talk freely about it, but it is up to parents to initiate the conversations. I am currently having all sorts of conversations with teens around these challenging topics related to online safety for the upcoming FYI play it safe podcast, ‘Sip the Tea’.  I am finding that all of the children I talk to are very open, and they want to talk about these topics because they are highly relevant in their world today.”

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About FYI play it safe

FYI play it safe is a South African based company offering a downloadable app to help parents globally, to protect their children from online harm and potential physical danger. The app is not a parental control app, but rather a complimentary layer of added security where parents are kept informed of potentially harmful situations. For more information visit www.fyiplayitsafe.com FYI play it safe is active on Facebook and Instagram at @FYIplayitsafe and shares regular articles and industry updates.

About Lekha Daya

Lekha Daya is a Counselling Psychologist with over a decade of mental health experience working with children, adolescents and adults from various backgrounds and cultures. She offers individual therapy with teens and adults. She also provides family therapy, couples therapy, parental guidance and career counselling. Lekha’s professional experience spans across the NGO, public health, employee wellness and education sectors. She can be contacted for in person consultations in the Fourways/Sandton area and online, on 083 695 1432.

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2 comments

  1. Jacolene Pienaar

    I totally agree with this is so hard to do …
    Also most of us did not speak of this but I also discussed all this topics with my kids they growing up in a strange world we must just bite the appel and get through this

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