Helping your teen stay safe online

Estimated read: 6 minutes 

Being online can be a really positive experience as you can connect with friends, watch enjoyable clips and much more. The internet is a great resource for families helping with homework, shopping and staying in touch with friends through social networks. However, it does have dangers and it is important to stay safe online.

Key points:

  • Agree rules such as never giving out contact details online and make sure that your child knows why they should never give out their full name, number or email address
  • Don't just have one-off conversations about keeping safe online, ensure it is a continuous chat and keep it general
  • Talk to your teen about managing their online reputation and their digital footprints, reminding them whatever they post online is always out there and can never be deleted so to think twice about what they post
online safety

Managing a positive online reputation

When we are online, we leave a trail of information which can be used to determine what we might be interested in buying or viewing online. A digital footprint is data that is left behind when users have been online. There are two types of digital footprints which are passive and active. A passive footprint is made when information is collected from the user without the person knowing this is happening. An active digital footprint is where the user has deliberately shared information about themselves either by using social media sites or by using websites.

A lot of employers will also use social media to vet prospective employees so it is important that you are mindful as to what you post on any such sites. Of course there is no limit as to how far you can go back in time on social media sites and once something is posted, there is no way of removing it completely. Others might have commented or shared your posts and this in turn will create their own digital footprint. This is something that needs to be discussed with your children and teenagers so they can be educated and are aware what might happen to that information.

Online gaming 

Online gaming has become the new going out for many young people as they meet their friends online to play games alongside and against each other. All these wonderful and innovative things you can do online is often overshadowed by the dangers and safety issues of being online. On gaming sites, there can be lots of bullying and hurtful comments being made and people can be left out too. It is important to watch out for signs that your child is experiencing bullying on gaming sites. Help and advice is available from Internet Matters if you are concerned.

Worried about online bullying 

Cyberbullying is any form of bullying which takes place online or through smartphones and tablets. Social networking sites, messaging apps, gaming sites and chat rooms such as Facebook, XBox Live, Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat and other chat rooms can be great fun and a positive experience. The worst thing about social networking sites and messaging apps is that anything nasty posted about you can be seen by lots of people and these posts can go viral and be shared by so many people within minutes. The most vicious gossip and rumours are often spread by people who were once your friends so it's important to consider whether you trust someone before you do share your very personal information. Posting false and malicious things about people on the internet can be classed as harassment. If you are worried that your teen is experiencing online bullying, please visit our cyberbullying advice section.

Keeping safe online

  • Show an interest in what your child is doing on the net but try for a balance between respecting their privacy and making sure they don't feel the need to be secretive
  • Agree rules such as never giving out contact details online and make sure that your child knows why they should never give out their full name, number or email address
  • Agree with your child what they can and can't have access to on the net. Insist they don't download anything from 'pop-ups' that can appear on the screen. Ask them to fetch you if the 'pop-ups' keep reappearing as they can be very persistent
  • Remember some young people will use chat rooms to 'reinvent' themselves which is perfectly normal
  • Don't just have one-off conversations about keeping safe, ensure it is a continuous chat
  • Ask your internet service provider what service they offer to protect your family such as shields, etc.
  • Keep safe by using unusual passwords. Use a combination of letters, lowercase, uppercase, symbols and numbers
  • Check and check again all privacy and location settings
  • Talk to them about digital footprints and their online footprints
  • Limit screen time and try to structure family time so they are not online constantly
  • Encourage your child to talk to you if they see something that makes them uncomfortable

Further resources 

It may help to chat to other parents on our forums to find out how they are dealing with this issue within their family life. You can also talk to us online via our live chat service, email us at askus@familylives.org.uk or call us on our helpline on 0808 800 2222 to speak to trained family support worker. You can also report bullying to an organisation called Report Harmful Content online and they can help to get things taken down. You can also find more information on cyber bullying and tips on how to bring up the issue with your child at Internet Matters

Please watch this video for further guidance 

This page was updated on October 2021

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