Inappropriate Content for Children

In many ways the Internet is like a gigantic library; both have content to teach and entertain. And similar to the content in a library, not all Internet content is appropriate for children. Libraries create children’s and young adults’ sections in order to help youths (and their parents) identify which materials are appropriate for them. On the Internet, however, all of the content may be equally accessible; websites about ponies and websites featuring pornography are both a click away.

Sexually Explicit Material

Sexually explicit material, such as legal adult pornography and illegal child pornography, are readily available online. Consequently, many young people are learning about sex from the Internet, media, or their peers. According to developmental pediatrician Dr. Sharon Cooper, “The more often a person is exposed to potentially harmful materials, the more normal it seems and the more desensitized the person becomes.”[1] Without the counsel of parents and guardians, children may develop flawed views and opinions of their self-image and sexuality, which could affect their development.

Other Inappropriate Content

In addition to sexual content, children may be exposed to materials which glorify risky and illegal behaviors, making teens think it is “cool” to copy these activities. For example, some sites offer text or video instructions on anything from picking locks to playing alcoholic drinking games to making bombs. Other sites encourage dangerous behaviors such as cutting, anorexia, and suicide and may even have tips about how to hide the behaviors from family and friends.

Children do not have to look hard to find inappropriate content; it is as easy as typing a word into the search bar on Google.  Even blocking, filtering, and monitoring software can be overcome by a determined child. A child may also accidently click the wrong link or misspell a Web address and be led to websites with inappropriate content. That is why when it comes to dealing with inappropriate material, adult guidance and supervision are key.   

[1] Normalization of Sexual Harm , NetSmartz® Workshop, (October 04, 2007).


Help protect children against inappropriate content

Before your children use the Internet, you should talk to them about what content they are allowed to access. Above all, it’s important to open the lines of communication about online material that makes your child feel uncomfortable. Often, children are afraid to tell a parent or guardian about something they have seen because they are afraid that their Internet privileges will be taken away. The best solution is to openly discuss the situation before a problem arises.

  • Know where children may have access to the Internet—at school, friends’ houses, community centers, or libraries—and where the computers may not have blocking and filtering mechanisms.
  • Encourage your children to come to you or another trusted adult if he or she encounters inappropriate material.
  • Install blocking, filtering, and monitoring software in order to block pop-ups, restrict access to sites with adult content, and see which sites your children visit.
  • Discuss your family values with your children and be clear about what online content aligns with those values. Clarify values and discuss how much of what is readily available may not support healthy values.
  • Use the NetSmartz Internet Safety Pledges to set clear guidelines for going online.
  • Report the sexual exploitation or online enticement of a child to

Discussion Starters

Start a discussion with your child

  • What do you consider to be inappropriate material on the Internet?
  • Without seeking it, how could someone run into inappropriate content online?
  • Have you ever come across inappropriate content on the Internet? What was it? What did you do about it?        
  • What would you do if you came across a pop-up of a naked person or a hate website regarding a specific religion?        
  • Would you feel comfortable telling me about anything you saw online that made you feel scared or uncomfortable? Why or why not?