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Children's experiences of legal but harmful content online

Helplines insight briefing

Publication date February 2022

This briefing uses insight from Childline counselling sessions and NSPCC helpline contacts to highlight the experiences of young people who have viewed legal but harmful content online.

There is no official definition for legal but harmful content. The term is used to describe images, words and videos that are legal to create and view but have a high risk of causing physical or psychological damages or injury.

This briefing focuses on pornography and material which promotes or glorifies eating disorders, self-harm and suicide. 

Key themes include:

  • how children become exposed to legal but harmful content online
  • the impact of harmful content on children
  • barriers to speaking out
  • reporting harmful content to online platforms
  • finding support
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"I recently came across this section on Twitter which was all about weight loss and had threads on how to starve yourself. It also had pictures of extreme waists and stuff. This really affected me, to the point that I had to delete the app entirely. Ever since I've been feeling strange about myself and my body."

Girl aged 17, Childline
"My 17-year-old son was sent an inappropriate message on Discord by someone they don't know. This person disclosed how they liked to cut themselves - they then sent pictures of what appeared to be self-harm injuries. My son hasn't been able to get the images out of his head and he's been having trouble sleeping. I'm wondering how best to handle this situation?"

Mother, NSPCC helpline


NSPCC (2022) Children's experiences of legal but harmful content online. London: NSPCC.