Understanding Harmful Content


Type of Resource


Publication Date

June 28, 2023


Harmful or inappropriate content  

Just like in the real world, there are people, places, and online spaces that can be harmful or dangerous for young people.

Harmful content can include live news, violence, sexualised material, and a range of other enticing activities that can harm young people physically and emotionally.

Online harms refer to any behaviour or content online that could hurt or cause physical and emotional injury.

According to the 2022 Ofcom Online Nation report, 62% of internet users aged 13+ have encountered at least one potential harm online in the last month, with the most common potential harms encountered being scams, fraud and phishing. However, only 20% of parents have reported their child telling them about seeing something upsetting or scary online.

On average, the number of potential harms experienced in the last four weeks was three.

Ofcom highlight three types of harms:

Relating to harmful images, videos or texts.
Relating to potentially harmful behaviours which users may witness or be targets of online, such as bullying or abuse.
Content which puts a user at risk of financial harm or disadvantage
Talking to young people about harmful content online can be daunting, especially when it might be something you haven’t seen or experienced yourself. However, when you know or suspect the issue might be relevant to a young person in your care, you should sensitively address the issue. We’ve included some tips below to help you plan your conversation.

What a young person can do if they stumble across scary, negative, or disturbing content

When mentoring young people, talk about the issue and suggest the following coping strategies:

Top Tips For You

Avoid strong emotional reactions like anger, panic, or shock. This will not help the situation and may compromise the trust of the child in your care.
Prepare by fact-checking what you’re talking about so that you can have an informed and well-thought-out conversation.

Naturally engage the child using non-judgmental language and encourage them to be honest and open. Asking them what they know about a topic or issue means you can gauge just how much detail is needed. It’s usually better to not approach the subject directly. This helps you avoid talking about or introducing topics they might not otherwise have known about.

You should reassure children in your care by telling them they can always talk to you about issues, even if they are worried or scared. In this section, you will learn more about the different types of harmful content and how you can make a report.

Welcome to the Online Safety Hub

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