How can I help my teenager stay safe online?

As a parent or carer, you may worry about whether your teenager is safe online. It can help to understand what the risks are, and how to support your child.

Being informed may make it easier to talk to your child, too.

Understand the risks

Online spaces can be a positive thing. But they can also come with risks. Understanding where the dangers might be can help you educate your child.

The risks can be broken into three areas:

  • Content: This may be content that is inappropriate or unreliable. It could include content that is sexual, violent, biased or extreme in opinion.
  • Conduct: They may put themselves at risk through their own behaviour. This could include sharing too much information.
  • Contact: This includes bullying, harassment, grooming, or pressure to behave a certain way.

Create an understanding environment

Before you speak to your child, think about your attitude to your child spending time online. Do you complain about them spending time online, or dismiss social media? If your child thinks you have a negative attitude, conversations may feel more confrontational.

Take some time to think about how you spend time online and why the space could be important to your child too. Consider both the positives and negatives.

Try starting an honest conversation with them. It might not feel like an easy topic. Your child may be secretive or defensive when you approach the subject. Talk about the things you both enjoy and share your favourite sites with each other. Let them know that they can come to you with any worries, and you will help them work out what to do.

We have some advice on talking to your child about difficult topics.

Help your teen stay safe

Support your child to learn how they can look after themselves. Try to create a positive environment.

Instead of just making rules, talk with your teenager about online safety. Make sure they feel involved in decisions and know that you’re there to chat if they’re worried.

  • Empower them with information. Make sure they know how to block and report someone. Let them know what behaviours are unacceptable or illegal.
  • Find ways to help build their resilience and self-esteem. This will put them in a good position to handle difficult situations.
  • Encourage your child to talk to their friends about what they encounter online. They may not always come to you for help but they’ll be able to ask someone, and upskill each other.
  • Allow them some room to experiment. Make sure they can access sites and games you’ve agreed on, as long as they know what to do if there is an issue.
  • Talk to them about healthy relationships and consent, and how to say “no”. This is as important online as it is offline.
  • Try doing the ‘Billboard Test’ with your child. Ask them to imagine that everything they put onto social media and chats shows up on a billboard. This includes pictures, comments and personal information. How would they feel? Would they change what they post?
  • Put some restrictions in place to protect them. For example, install software to filter out harmful content.

Think about how you can support your child

Ask some questions to understand if your child might need extra support.

  • Do you think your child could be at risk? Think about what your child is using the internet for and how much they know about staying safe.
  • What can you do to help them know what the risks are? Learn what you can so you’re able to share your knowledge.
  • What information do you need as a parent to support your teenager?

Know where else to get support

You and your child can get more support from the following places:

  • ThinkUKnow offers guidance on online safety for children, young people and parents.
  • Childline has information for young people on staying safe.
  • Child Exploitation and Online Protection is a place to report concerns about sexual exploitation or abuse.
  • The Mix has advice for under-25s, as well as a chat service and crisis messenger.
  • Shout is a free text support service for anyone struggling with their mental health or wellbeing. Text 85258. 
  • O2 NSPCC Online Safety Helpline provides support for parents on privacy settings, new sites, apps and general advice. Call on 0808 800 5002.
happy childhood icon

This advice was written by our experienced Parent Talk coaches. Parent Talk is a free online service for parents and carers, provided by the charity Action for Children. For more advice, message our parenting coaches with our online chat.

More on technology

Talk to us

Talk about the issues that are worrying you with a parenting coach. Use our free and confidential online chat.