How do I help this child online if I don't know them?


Dear Stop It Now!,

A 14 year old admitted to me some very troubling things on Reddit, but I only know the user name. How do I help this kid?

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Dear Concerned Bystander,

Thank you so much for reaching out to us about this. This sounds like such a complicated situation, and it can be difficult to know what to do to best help this child when you only know a limited amount of information. Please know that there is help you can offer as a caring adult, even without having identifying information. In this email we will talk about what you can offer them in terms of encouragement, and how to seek out resources and appropriate supports.

First, this youth needs to hear just how brave they are by sharing this with you. They should never feel like they have to deal with difficult situations all on their own, and they have done the right thing telling someone about what is going on.  You don’t share many details, so please know that I’m not sure of what this child shared with you specifically. They may have told you that they were being sexually abused, that they are worried about their own behaviors towards other children, that they know of a child who is being harmed or abused, or maybe something else entirely. Whatever it is that they shared with you, please know that this youth can get the help they need.

If This Child Was Being Abused
If this child shared that they were worried about their safety or they are being abused, I’m wondering if you would be able to share some resources with them? Perhaps you could talk to them about adults in their life they might be able to talk to - like a teacher, friend’s parent, safe relative, or even a school guidance counselor? Talking with an adult they know in-person and whom they trust can be helpful, as this adult can assist them in figuring out next steps to take. If there isn’t any adult they trust, or if they want to talk this out a little more before talking to someone in their lives, perhaps they would be willing to reach out to Your Life Your Voice (1.800.448.3000). Your Life Your Voice is a crisis line for youth who are dealing with a variety of difficult issues. Their phone line is open 24/7/365. They also have email support, chat availability Mondays thru Fridays from 6p-12a CST, and text (VOICE to 20121) every day from 4p-12a CST. 

You could also talk with them about talking to authorities. This can be possibly a very scary idea for this youth, but you can share with them that Child Protective Services (CPS) is available in every state to help children who might not be safe. If you’re willing, you could offer to make a report for them if they wanted to share more identifying information with you. Our resource guide about Reporting may be helpful to think about these steps, if it comes to that. Most importantly, emphasize to this youth that they do not have to figure this out alone. They are doing the right thing by asking for help, and help is absolutely available. 

If This Child Was Worried About Harming Others
If this child is worried about their own safety around other children, there are resources for them as well. Many youth who are dealing with this feel a variety of huge emotions: fear, worry, and shame are just a few that might be coming up. Any youth who is worried about their thoughts, feelings, or behaviors regarding other children deserve help, and they can reach out to us for support. If this were the case please consider giving them information about how to contact our helpline. This youth is able to reach out to us via email, via phone at 1.888.PREVENT (1.888.773.8368) Monday through Friday from 12p-6p EST, or by chat available through our Get Immediate Help page, Monday through Friday from 12 p-5:30 p EST. They might also consider reaching out to Your Life Your Voice in order to talk about next steps and seek further help. Again, we want this youth to know that help is available and that there are people who want to help him or her.

If This Child Knows Another Child At Risk
If this youth shared that they know of another child who is at-risk of being abused or is being abused, then we want to encourage them to talk with a trusted adult. We want to focus on that other child’s safety, and help this youth make the difficult decision to talk about the other child’s safety so that we can get help to that abused child. This is so important, but that doesn’t mean it’s always easy. Perhaps you could help them think about how they can talk about this with an adult in their lives. They could say something like, “This is hard for me to talk about, but I need an adult’s help with a situation which has me worried…” You may also want to offer them this tip sheet from the Child Welfare Information Gateway specifically for children who are worried about another youth: How You Can Help Someone Who is Being Abused or Neglected. They can also reach out to any of the other resources above, as this would also be a means of support for this youth. Whether you brainstorm with this teen or they end up reaching out to us or another helpline, talking with someone about what is going on is a good way to help this youth work towards in-person support. 

Support For Yourself
Finally, I’m also curious, how are you doing? Do you have allies in this situation, and other people to lean on? As this develops you also deserve somewhere to process any feelings which arise. Think about checking in with a partner, friend, family member, or even your own professional. 

Take care,
Stop It Now!


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Last edited on: March 9th, 2020