How to Talk to Your Teens About Online Safety

How to Talk to Your Teens About Online Safety

Teens today are using more technology than any generation before them. They have 24/7 access to their friends, their favorite games, and countless social media sites. Do you know what your teens are doing with all of this access? Are they being safe online?

You probably don’t see much of what your teens do online. They’re posting from their smartphones or playing games on their laptop—and, of course, they’re not checking with you first. You trust your children to be safe online, but they probably don’t fully understand what that means. Now is the time to start talking to your teens about online safety.

Here are four tips on what to talk about and how to keep the conversation going throughout your children’s teenage years.

Teach Teens About the Newspaper Test

Teenagers are not known for making good decisions, and they are more likely to make poor decisions when they “feel pressured, stressed or are seeking attention from peers.” And where do teens often go when they feel stressed or need attention? Right to their smartphones and the internet. It’s a perfect storm for bad decisions.

Prepare your teens for the decisions they’ll be making online by teaching them the “newspaper test.” It goes like this: before taking an action, consider how you would feel if you knew that a smart but unfriendly reporter would write about it in your local paper, where your friends, family, and neighbors would see it. If you would still feel good about taking that action, it passes the test. If not, it’s time to reconsider.

For example, would your teens want their most recent Instagram photo or Facebook post in the paper? If the answer is no, they shouldn’t do it. This simple test gives teens a broader perspective on their decisions, challenging them to see the bigger picture before acting on impulse.

Have a Conversation About Privacy

Do your teens know what information to keep private when they’re online? Start a conversation by asking them what types of information they shouldn’t share on the internet. They should mention things like their real name, address, school, and passwords.

They might forget about some of the less obvious privacy concerns. Remind your teen that they shouldn’t share images of other people without their consent. They should also keep sensitive information about themselves and other people private. They can consider sharing this information in a small, in-person group if they’d like to talk to their friends about it. Ultimately, they should keep this one fact in mind: everything they post on the internet will be there forever, where anyone could see it.

Help Teens See the Two Sides of Bullying

Being bullied or bullying others—both situations are dangerous and you need to make sure your teen knows about both sides.

Research shows that 59% of U.S. teens have been bullied or harassed online. Bullying takes many forms, including sending harassing text messages, posting embarrassing photos on social media, spreading rumors online, or physically threatening others. When teens are bullied, they might not know what to do. They may feel embarrassed or stay silent because they don’t want the bullying to get worse. Help your teens identify a few different people they can go to for help if they’re being bullied.

Remember that any teen can be a bully. It’s not simply a problem of “bad” kids. Even if you think your teens would never do it, speak to them about specific situations in which they might be tempted to bully others. Often, teens engage in bullying behavior to fit in, to copy their friends, or to give themselves a power boost when they’re feeling insecure.

Don’t Stop After One Conversation

The most important part of talking to your teens about online safety is that the conversation is never truly over. Keep talking to them. Observe their online behavior, watch for changes, and talk to them about the concerns you have. Ask about what they’re doing online. Play their favorite online games with them and discuss the potential threats. Repeat small doses of information often.

Be sure your teens know that they can initiate conversations about online safety, too. If they ever feel that something isn’t quite right, they should talk to you or another trusted adult. Tell them that they can come to you anytime, without fear of you judging them or freaking out.


Facts for Kids About Bullying. (2017, September 8). Stop Bullying.

LeBlanc, C. (2020, February 11). How to Talk About Internet Safety with Kids. Fatherly.

McCue, J. (2018, January 21). A Parent’s Guide to Why Teens Make Bad Decisions. The Conversation.

Popomaronis, T. (2019, May 11). Billionaire Warren Buffett Has a “Simple” Test for Making Tough Decisions—Here’s How It Works. CSNBC.

Skehill, E. (2020, September 14). There’s No Such Thing as a Bad Kid. Mental Health America.

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