My kid is looking for help online – am I a bad parent?

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Picture: RainbowPow, user of goSupermodel

Picture: RainbowPow, user of goSupermodel

There can be puzzling situations in a child’s private or family life that are not easily verbalized in his or her face-to-face habitat, such as school or hobbies. These issues range from but are certainly not limited to for instance divorce, sexuality, domestic violence, alcohol and drugs. Shame, guilt and confusion are often present, and so it might seem easier to just google instead of talking.

In recent years, both public and non-profit organizations, especially in the field of social work, have gone online to provide low threshold help to people under the objective that support should be where the people are.

As most kids today use the internet daily, and are a part of the so-called digitally native generation, youth work and child protection organizations have been the trendsetters of how anonymous, user-driven, yet professional and ethically sound services can and should be provided online.

Consider it as a new start

The most common uses of the internet for children today are socializing, entertainment and finding information on all sorts of subject matter. Luckily, there is an increasing number of trustworthy and safe adults responding to these queries. And children are quite good at identifying these adults online.

So, what does a parent do when they find out that their child has talked online to professional adults concerning sensitive issues? It is understandable that it may cause an array of questions to rise, the main ones being “what will ensue of all of this?”, or “what have I done?”.

Well, take a breath. It is not the end of the world. In fact, it can be a start of something new.
Communication is key, as it is in all family life.

Would you feel betrayed?

Online help should never be a depository of secrets from parents, although, to a degree, a child does have a right to privacy as well as a right to be heard as an individual. We do not encourage snooping around a child’s browsing history as that will only increase the chances of further misunderstanding and disconnect.

Quite a few children have reported that as parents find out about their child’s quest for help, they have accused him or her of betrayal or asked them to stop taking part in online help. It is hard to imagine many parents would do this if it was a “real-life” interaction between a child and a professional.

About the author:

Koko Hubara, A-Clinic Foundation

Koko Hubara, 30, is a Finnish project planner for the A-Clinic Foundation, which is one of the largest providers of online help in matters concerning substance misuse. She works on the website www.varjomaailma.fi, developing a model for child protection social work online, targeted at young people who suffer from parental alcohol abuse. The project is funded by Finland’s Slot Machine Association.