How to talk about: Dodgy content online

Brought to you by Toyota Family JourneysEver since the first humans started drawing in caves, there were some cavemen who drew dodgy pictures. The pyramids probably have some secret chamber of inappropriate hieroglyphics and when the Romans started building walls, people started writing explicit things on them.  

Not everyone uses their creative potential to draw or write dodgy content and then share it with others in public places; but for some reason, there has always been a bunch of humans who have found drawing specific things on someone else’s pencil case very amusing. However, not everyone wants to see the dodgy stuff that these dodgy people are creating. So how do you help your kids to navigate a world with a small group of dodgy people, who get a kick out of creating dodgy stuff and putting it where other people can see it? 

Now when we say dodgy, we aren’t just talking about Kevin Costner wearing tights in the movie Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, we are also talking about all of the explicit, inappropriate or just twisted content that exists online. 

If we are really honest, there is dodgy stuff everywhere!
I don’t know when you last read through the dictionary from cover to cover, but you
won’t even make it past the letter A before you have felt a little uncomfortable.  

The biggest challenge facing our young people is that they are no longer just reading the definition of something that is a bit dodgy in the dictionary. They are no longer just seeing some poorly drawn caricature of something violent or sexual. Technology now exposes young people to explicit and violent pictures and videos that graphically show the reality of something that was once only understood conceptually. And it’s not just pictures and videos, comment sections on almost every social media platform are full of nasty, degrading, sexualized and violent posts too. 

So how do you talk to your kids about the dodgy stuff that they will almost inevitably encounter online? 

First things first. If we want our children to talk to us, we need to be good listeners. If you’re still up-skilling in this area, check out some of our other How To Talk About articles for tips on tackling tough topics and listening your way to great conversations. 

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There are two types of conversations that you can have with your kids about dodgy stuff online: 

1. Before they start using their own device 

It is incredibly important to have a conversation now about what would happen if they told you that they had seen something, violent, sexual, or… well, dodgy. 

If we want our kids to talk to us about seeing dodgy stuff online, they need to know for sure that your first response isn’t going to be reactive. If they are worried about instant confiscation or limitation, they may prefer to keep the scary, uncomfortable or even traumatic experience to themselves! And we don’t want our kids to have to navigate those types of experiences alone. 

One way to have this conversation is to create a contract with them. You could write a clause that says: 

If you see anything online which makes you feel uncomfortable or unsafe you will tell me, and I am contractually obliged to listen and I promise that my first response will not be to take away your device. However, I reserve the right to genuinely care about how you are feeling, get you help if you need it and confiscate your device if that is necessary.

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2. If they have been using their own device for a while 

It could be helpful to remind your kids that if they accidentally see something dodgy, that they can talk to you about it and they won’t be in trouble. 

When I polled an audience of intermediate-aged students about why they wouldn’t tell their parents about what they saw online, I found that nearly 100% of them said they were scared that if they told their parents, their parents would confiscate their device from them. What I learned isn’t exactly that profound; kids love technology and hate being in trouble. 

It is so important that you tell your young person that you care more about helping them to make sense of the dodgy stuff that they may have seen, than you do about punishing them. 

Your kids may have all sorts of questions like: 

  • Why would someone even make this content? 
  • Why would someone share such dodgy content? 
  • Was that even real? 
  • How do I stop thinking about what I saw? 

Just remember, you don’t have to have all the answers and you don’t have to be an expert in technology! Keeping our kids safe online can seem really daunting, but self-control and character are the best filters and these are developed over time, through loving, close relationships. Kids are curious but having parameters around device use, time limits, keeping off chat groups and only using screens in a family area, for example, can help in the quest to limit exposure to the world of dodgy.

What your kids need more than a smart phone or a talk about dodgy stuff online is to know that you love them (and that you like them), that they can talk to you about anything and that you will guide them to find help if they need it. That type of relationship enables parents and children to navigate almost any challenge, including seeing Kevin Coster take a bullet for Whitney in The Bodyguard. It’s not super graphic, but it is super emotional.  


Looking for more personalised strategies and solutions for your family? 

Our Family Coaches bring their extensive training and experience to help uncover new insights, ideas and practical solutions to parenting and relationship challenges. Through one-on-one support (in person, via Skype or email), you’ll be provided with take-home strategies to bring about the positive changes you desire for your whānau.

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About Author

James Beck

James Beck is our Kaihanga o Ngā Mea/Content Director. He’s been part of our team for 10 years now. James started his time here as an Attitude presenter and has reached over 200,000 people in schools, prisons and workplaces all over the country. You may have caught him on radio, TV or even read one of his many articles. James has also recently authored a (very funny) children’s book, Eliza Loves Rocks. Anyone who’s heard James speak will remember him for his unique sense of humour, which he credits his rural upbringing for. It has been a key to helping him connect with people from all walks of life. James is passionate about helping people reach their full potential.

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