The online onslaught can cause invisible scars

oung people undergoing a rite of passage from adolescence to adulthood is an age-old concept. The idea continues to resonate with young people today, evident in the success of franchises such as The Hunger Games and The Maze Runner, in which teenagers must overcome various challenges and ordeals to make their way in the world. However, in our digital age, the notion of a young person proving themselves by undergoing a trial of endurance can manifest itself quite differently.

A disturbing new online game being played by secondary school students offers just such a trial, by exposing participants to the worst content the internet has to offer. Over twenty ‘levels’ of increasingly violent video imagery, teens try to endure an onslaught of film clips progressing from extreme sexual practices through to detailed depictions of real violence, including murder.

This type of content is not only potentially disturbing—it may be harmful.

Research suggests that engagement with violent content may impact sleep and may potentially trigger a trauma response in vulnerable individuals. There is also the potential for desensitisation to violence, and a tendency towards imitation of some acts – particularly for younger children.

While teenagers are programmed to engage in risky behaviour, in the digital age this behaviour can play out online. Peer pressure can also significantly influence the behaviour of teens online. Neither of these phenomena are new—but the risks involved in the digital space can be less visible or obvious. As a parent of carer, there are practical steps you can take to minimise the risks associated with young people accessing disturbing material online.

Talk to your child

It’s important to be aware of what your child is accessing online. Maintaining a relationship that allows you to have frank and honest conversations about their online behaviour is imperative. Our Parent portal may help provide you with the tools you need to have such discussions.

Consider installing filtering software

Filtering software can be an important additive to direct supervision. Using filtering software may be effective in blocking sites known to host offensive material. More information about the Family Friendly Filter program can be found on the Communications Alliance website.

Seek assistance

If a child needs some support after exposure to disturbing content online, seek advice from a professional. Kids Helpline provides free confidential telephone and online counselling support for young people. Many other organisations provide specialist support for Australian young people—a comprehensive list of service providers can be found at the eSafety and Wellbeing Directory.

Report to the eSafety Commissioner

Within the Office of the eSafety Commissioner, the Cyberreport team deals with complaints about offensive and illegal online material. If you become aware of material online that is disturbing, upsetting or harmful, you can report it here.  

Keeping kids safe online is an ongoing challenge which requires not only endurance, but the support of the entire community. It’s vital we all do our part to help protect children from harm.