Helping students exposed to upsetting content

Helping students exposed to upsetting content

Students may find things they never intended to look at. If your students have been exposed to upsetting content it can hard to know how to help. Netsafe has developed the following advice to guide you through this difficult situation.

What to do if a student is exposed to upsetting content

Regardless of whether students have seen a video, an image or heard about it second-hand, young people may experience emotional distress given the nature of this content. If a student comes to you about something they have seen online, the most important thing you can do is take what they are saying seriously. The other things to do are:

  • Try not to assign blame about how they came across the material
  • Reassure them that it isn’t their fault
  • Don’t trivialise what they have seen by saying that the material may not be real (it is important to deal with their feelings first)
  • Provide comfort and assurance
  • Normalise their response, e.g., ‘It’s normal to be scared/angry/upset/confused’
  • Don’t overreact by taking away the technology – this will make them less likely to talk to you if something else happens and it can make them feel like they are to blame
  • Make sure that they know you are glad that they came to you about it.
What’s Netsafe’s advice to schools if students see upsetting content

As a school, our best advice is to make sure that your students are supported and have avenues to talk about how this content may be affecting them. If young people are expressing feelings about self-harm or suicide then this should be followed up with appropriate mental health support. 

 If students do come across content, we’d strongly encourage you to report it to the social media site or website that it’s on, and to report it to Netsafe. Where the content is reported to us, we may be able to assist in having the content flagged and addressed more quickly.  

 It may be appropriate to involve other members of your school community and let them know about what’s happened, such as guidance counsellors, your Board of Trustees, or even parents and whānau, if this has been affecting a lot of students or has caused considerable distress for students.

Netsafe resources

Netsafe’s Responding to Digital Incidents Guide can help you find the appropriate response for your school’s circumstances. If you decide that it’s appropriate to reach out to parents and whānau, or if parents or whānau approach the school about the video, Netsafe has several helpful resources: 

  • Our page on helping young people exposed to upsetting content can help whānau navigate conversations with their young people 
  • Our Online Safety Parent Toolkit is a wider framework for helping parents navigate online safety with their young people  
  • For some whānau, parental controls may be an appropriate solution to help filter out graphic content  
  • If students would like further support they can contact Youthline on free text 234 or call 0800 376 633 

Netsafe can also provide advice for any students or whānau who are concerned about this video.