The Social Institute's Recommendations for Navigating Violent Content

October 12, 2023

In the age of clickbait and viral videos, it’s nearly impossible to shield our students’ eyes from the wave of distressing and violent content, especially when social media platforms become stages for harrowing global events. While online content, whether from known sources or shared by friends, influences us all, it can be especially intense for the younger generation trying to make sense of their world.

At The Social Institute, we believe in turning these ever-evolving challenges into constructive conversations. In the face of difficult times of violence, we remain committed to helping schools have conversations with students about what they experience online – and how to make healthy, high-character choices.

To support this mission, here are some actionable steps and resources that you’re welcome to tailor for your family or school community:

Tech Check: Tune up your settings to limit exposure to violence

1. Limit Sensitive Content on Instagram:

  • Sensitive Content Control: With Instagram being one of the most popular apps used among students, take time to consider exploring and/or updating your settings. Go to Settings > Settings and Privacy > Suggested Content > Sensitive Content.
  • Limit Specific Words or Phrases: Instagram has a feature where you can input specific words or phrases to filter out associated content. Go to Settings > Settings and Privacy > Suggested Content > Specific Words and Phrases.
  • Muted Accounts: If you’d prefer not to see graphic or triggering posts on Instagram that a particular person or account is sharing – but don’t want to unfollow or block them altogether – you can opt to “Mute” them. Go to Settings > Settings and Privacy > Muted Accounts.
  • Other social media apps like Facebook and Twitter have settings to limit or filter out sensitive content. Dive into the individual settings of each app to adjust your preferences.

2. Take advantage of features on iPhone or Android devices:

  • Update your Screen Time & Content Restrictions: On iPhone, go to ‘Settings’ > ‘Screen Time’ > ‘Content & Privacy Restrictions’. Activate and choose content types to block or limit. Under ‘Content Restrictions’ > ‘Music, Podcasts, News, Fitness’, consider blocking explicit content. You can also use the Screen Time feature to set app limits, like a 20-minute cap for Instagram to avoid doomscrolling. For Android, use its digital wellbeing or content filters: Settings > Digital Wellbeing & Parental Controls.
  • Limit your child’s Screen Time and Content Restrictions: Both Apple and Android have parental controls that allow you to update your child’s settings from your device. Use Apple’s Family Sharing and Android’s Google Family Link. From there, you can adjust screen time limits, app limits, and content & privacy restrictions.

3. Enable SafeSearch on Internet Browsers:

  • Safari: Ensure that your child’s web browsing is filtered. Go to ‘Settings’ > ‘Screen Time’ > ‘Content & Privacy Restrictions’> ‘Content Restrictions’ > ‘Web Content’, then select ‘Limit Adult Websites’.
  • Google Safe Search: Filter out explicit results from Google searches. On your child’s device or a family device, open the Google app or go to in a browser. Go to Settings > Search Settings > and turn on SafeSearch.
  • Third-party browsers: Most major browsers have a ‘Safe Search’ feature that can be activated in the settings. For instance, Google’s ‘SafeSearch’ helps filter out explicit content in search results.

4. Choose Apps and Experiences for a Child’s Age:

  • YouTube Kids App: If your child is younger, instead of using the regular YouTube app on your phone, download and use YouTube Kids. It’s specifically designed for children and offers a more controlled environment. Still, regularly review the content, as no filtering system is perfect.
  • YouTube Restricted Mode: If your child is older and uses the YouTube app, you can avoid videos that may contain inappropriate content. Go to Settings > General > and toggle on Restricted Mode. This will filter out videos such as ones that contain explicit language or profanity, violent content, sexual themes or discussions, portrayals of harmful or dangerous acts, hateful or discriminatory messages, drug-related content, sensitive or mature topics like war or political conflicts, and potential misinformation, especially in critical areas like health.

5. Consider Parental Control Apps:

  • If needed, consider using parental control apps such as Bark, Net Nanny, or OurPact. They provide features like immediate alerts for worrisome content, setting screen time routines, and blocking unsuitable apps or sites.
  • While apps like Life360 and Bark enhance security, don’t let them overshadow the value of open dialogue and trust-building. Foster trust with your child through huddling and genuine conversations and developing personal responsibility and character development.

Huddle Up: Empower the next generation through conversation

While tech settings have their place and value, ongoing conversations lie at the heart of understanding. We know reputation is the mother of learning, and we have the opportunity to foster a space where students feel safe discussing what they experience online.

For all of these Huddles, remember to validate your child’s feelings. Whether they’re disturbed by content they sought out or content that appeared unwarranted, their reactions are legitimate. Actively listen, instead of trying to provide immediate solutions, and see if you can come up with solutions together as a family or a class.

1. General Impact of Violent Media:

  • How do you feel after seeing violent content on social media or the news?
  • What you might hear from students:  
  • “It freaks me out. I feel uneasy for a while after.”
  • “I get super anxious and sometimes can’t even sleep thinking about it.”
  • “It’s like a heavy feeling in my stomach. I don’t know why people even share that stuff.”
  • “It makes me feel pretty bummed out. Like, why is the world so messed up?”
  • “It’s just too much sometimes. I just want to see memes and fun stuff, not all this negativity.”

Do you think exposure to violent content affects students’ moods or thoughts? How?

What you might hear from students:

  • “I might not even want to chat or hang out with my friends. Just rather be alone.”
  • “I start overthinking things and sometimes even feel scared about going outside.”
  • “It makes me more paranoid about stuff. I start imagining worst-case scenarios.”
  • “I end up talking about it with my friends and it sort of becomes the main topic for a while.”
  • “I get more protective about my younger siblings, and caution them about what they watch.”
  • What are healthy ways to cope with and process any distressing content you see online?

Possible ideas to discuss:

  • Take breaks from digital devices
  • Seek out conversations with trusted individuals for perspective
  • Follow or subscribe to positive and uplifting accounts to counterbalance negative content
  • Engage in distractions like games, funny videos, or other hobbies
  • Use a journal or other forms of expression to process feelings

2. Subscribed Content vs. Random Content:

  • Compare the experience of choosing a movie vs. unexpected distressing content randomly popping up in your feed. What feels different?

Pointers for parents:

  • Be empathetic: Understand that the unpredictability of social media can be unsettling. Emphasize that it’s OK to feel uneasy or startled when they encounter unexpected content.
  • Analogies are helpful: Use real-life examples to relate to the situation. For instance, knowing there will be a loud bang in a few seconds versus hearing it out of the blue. The latter can be more startling because you weren’t braced for it.
  • What can you say if a classmate or peer wants to show you or talk about violent content that you don’t feel comfortable seeing?

Possible ideas to discuss

  • “Thanks, but I’m not really into that kind of stuff.”
  • “I’d rather not watch it. Can we check out something else?”
  • “That kind of stuff bothers me. Mind if we skip it?”
  • “I’ve been trying to avoid violent stuff lately. Got any funny videos instead?”
  • “I’d rather not see that. Let’s talk about something else.”
  • “I’ve heard about that video and I’d rather not watch it if that’s okay.”

3. Ethical Considerations:

  • Do you feel it’s important to stay educated on global issues, even if they might be disturbing? Why or why not?

What you might hear from students:

  • Yeah, I think we should know what’s going on in the world. If we’re clueless about these things, how can we understand or help others? But we gotta make sure we’re getting the real story from good sources, not ones that just want to shock us with too much drama.
  • No, sometimes the news is just too intense, especially when it’s all bad stuff. It’s important to know what’s happening, but we also have to take care of our feelings and not get too stressed out. We’ve got to find that middle ground.
  • Where should we draw the line between staying informed and protecting our mental health? How can we balance the importance of understanding real-world issues with the potential harm of being exposed to graphic content?

What you might hear from students:

  • Everyone’s different, but maybe not checking the news all the time could help. Maybe set certain times to check it, but not right before sleeping so it doesn’t mess up our sleep or mood.
  • Instead of watching intense videos, we could read or listen to short summaries. This way, we’re updated but not too freaked out by violent content or headlines.
  • We should stick to news places that don’t just try to grab our attention with shocking stuff. Some just want more clicks, so we should find ones that just give us the real info without making it scarier than it is.
  • If the news gets too much and makes us feel bad, it’s cool to take a break. We can come back when we’re ready or check out other sources that don’t go overboard with the drama.

As role models, consider how these discussion questions and suggestions best align with your child’s or student’s needs and values. Together, we’re all on the same team and we can proactively take steps to best equip students to navigate social media and technology in healthy, safe, and high-character ways.

This blog is a repost from The Social Institute, the leader in understanding student experiences and the creator of #WinAtSocial, a gamified, online learning platform that equips students, educators, and families to navigate social experiences — online and offline — in healthy ways. Find the original post here.

Written by

Laura Tierney

Laura Tierney is the Founder and CEO of The Social Institute, empowering students and their role models to navigate social-emotional health, social media, and technology positively. A social media expert, educator, and technologist, she created the pioneering, best-in-class #WinAtSocial Program by combining her standout sports leadership experience with her career managing social media for world-class brands. As a digital native herself, she is bridging the gap between adults and students as the nation’s leader in positive social media education that students respect.