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A Helpful Guide to Talk with Kids About Being Online

posted May 9, 2016, 11:18 AM by Resty Manapat

When your kids begin socializing online, you may want to talk to them about certain risks: 

  • Inappropriate conduct: The online world can feel anonymous. Kids sometimes forget that they are still accountable for their actions.
  • Inappropriate contact: Some people online have bad intentions, including bullies, predators, hackers, and scammers.
  • Inappropriate content: You may be concerned that your kids could find pornography, violence, or hate speech online. 

You can reduce these risks by talking to your kids about how they communicate – online and off – and encouraging them to engage in conduct they can be proud of. 

Talk Early and Often

The best way to protect your kids online? Talk to them. Research suggests that when children want important information, most rely on their parents. 

Start early

After all, even toddlers see their parents use all kinds of devices. As soon as your child is using a computer, a cell phone, or any mobile device, it's time to talk to them about online behavior, safety, and security. As a parent, you have the opportunity to talk to your kid about what's important before anyone else does. 

Initiate conversations

Even if your kids are comfortable approaching you, don't wait for them to start the conversation. Use everyday opportunities to talk to your kids about being online. For instance, a TV program featuring a teen online or using a cell phone can tee up a discussion about what to do — or not — in similar circumstances. And news stories about internet scams or cyberbullying can help you start a conversation about your kids’ experiences and your expectations. 

Create an Honest, Open Environment

Kids look to their parents to help guide them. Be supportive and positive. Listening and taking their feelings into account helps keep conversation afloat. You may not have all the answers, and being honest about that can go a long way. 

Communicate Your Values

Be upfront about your values and how they apply in an online context. Communicating your values clearly can help your kids make smarter and more thoughtful decisions when they face tricky situations.  

Be Patient

Resist the urge to rush through conversations with your kids. Most kids need to hear information repeated, in small doses, for it to sink in. If you keep talking with your kids, your patience and persistence will pay off in the long run. Work hard to keep the lines of communication open, even if you learn your kid has done something online you find inappropriate.  

Young Kids

When very young children start using a computer, they should be supervised closely by a parent or caregiver. 

Parents may wish to choose the websites their kids visit early on — and not let them leave those sites on their own. If little kids aren't supervised online, they may stumble onto sites that could scare or confuse them.  

When you're comfortable that your young children are ready to explore on their own, it's still important to stay in close touch while they go from site to site. You may want to restrict access to sites that you have visited and know to be appropriate — at least in terms of their educational or entertainment value.  


Tweens (kids ages 8 to 12) begin exploring more on their own. They need to feel "independent," but not alone. It's important to be with them — or at least nearby — when they're online. Consider keeping the computer in an area where the child has access to you or another adult.  

If children aren't already using the internet for their schoolwork, this is when they're likely to start. It's also when they can discover resources for hobbies and other interests.  

Many tweens are adept at finding information online, but they still need adult guidance to help them understand which sources are trustworthy. 

Think about limits.

As you consider what your tweens see and do on the internet, think about how much time they spend online. Consider setting limits on how often they can be online and how long those sessions should be.  

Consider parental controls.

For younger tweens, parental controls — including filtering or monitoring tools — can be effective. However, many middle school kids have the technical know-how to get around them.  


Teens are forming their own values and beginning to take on the values of their peers. As they mature, many are eager to experience more independence from their parents. Teens are closing in on becoming adults, so they need to learn how to exercise judgment about using the net safely, securely, and in accordance with their family ethic.  

Teens have more internet access through cell phones, mobile devices, and friends' computers, as well as more time to themselves. So it isn't realistic to be always in the same room when they're online. They need to know that you and other family members can walk in and out of the room any time, and can ask them about what they're doing online.

Talk about credibility.

It's important to emphasize the concept of credibility to teens. Even the most tech-savvy kids need to understand that:  

  • not everything they see on the internet is true
  • people on the internet may not be who they appear to be
  • information or images they share can be seen far and wide
  • once something is posted online, it's nearly impossible to "take it back"  

Talk about expectations.

Because they often don't see facial expressions, body language, and other visual cues when they’re online, teens may feel free to do or say things that they wouldn't otherwise. Remind them that behind the screen names, profiles, and avatars are real people with real feelings.  

When you talk to your teen, set reasonable expectations. Anticipate how you will react if you find out that he has done something online you don't approve of.  

If your teen confides in you about something scary or inappropriate they've encountered online, try to work together to prevent it from happening again.  


Source: The Federal Trade Commission