Internet safety for teenagers

Teenager on sofaOlder children and teenagers are a lot more difficult to police online than younger ones. It's at this stage that you have to hope all your commonsense parenting has paid off, and your children are smart enough to have some idea as to what's OK and what's not OK.

The trouble is, they're still incredibly vulnerable – especially given that they often look a lot older than they are (especially girls) and may be tempted to post pictures of themselves on websites (discourage this).

What's most important at this stage is what's most important in every aspect of parenting a teenager: you need to keep communicating, and to stay involved.

What this means as far as the internet is concerned is to talk to your kids about what they're doing online and how they're spending their time on the internet.

Social networking sites

If they've got their own Facebook page, ask to look at it (expect a high level of resistance).

If you've got a Facebook page, search for your child and see what privacy settings they've got, ie can you get into their page or are you blocked. Put your child's name into Google and see what comes up.

One mum says: "I searched for my child's name and was horrified to find pictures of her and all her friends as the very first Google result. Aaagh! Cue urgent conversations about privacy settings and internet safety (and guilt that I hadn't been more on top of it before)."

Mumsnetters' top cyber-safety tips

  • Talk regularly about what they're doing/who they talk to and encourage them to report anything suspicious. I phrase it as if I don't have a clue about t'internet and they are happy to 'explain' all about whatever site they are on. MrsWeasley
  • Use profile managers to limit the access to computer controls available to your children (and ideally your husband to prevent him breaking them). This prevents children from deleting the history or turning off security measures. Whomovedmychocolate
  • Continually educate and update your child about internet safety and the current issues and make sure that you are fully up to speed with dangers, pitfalls and prevention methods. Bon
  • Respect your child's privacy as far as you can, without endangering them – building trust goes both ways. muncher
  • You have no way of knowing what happens when your children visit friends. Try to establish with the other set of parents what their policies are on internet use. Doodletoyou
  • On social networking sites, teach your child to set their profiles to private so only invited friends and family can see their profile, and make sure they don't let people they don't know join their network. champagnesupernova
  • Agree with your kids that there is a 'no blame' rule. If they do something they shouldn't and either break the computer or get into trouble, providing they tell you, you will just deal with it without yelling. If they know they can say 'someone said something horrible to me in a chatroom' without you freaking out about them being there in the first place, you've more chance of nipping problems in the bud. Whomovedmychocolate
  • If your child has homework about British Garden Birds, make sure safe search is on Google BEFORE they type in 'blue tits'. Soupdragon

Make sure your teen's email account has the highest level of spam filtering switched on and make sure they create email accounts that won't lead strangers to them, ie no first and last name combinations, or suggestive screen names - kinkykate , sexysusie, lusciouslil or the like.

Watch out for excessive use of the internet, especially at night. Be aware of other places they may be able to access the internet - school, the library, internet cafés and other friends' houses.

Make sure they're aware that anything they post on the internet may remain there for a long time, and could come back to haunt them when they're older - an employer or admissions tutor may well be tempted to do a Google search, or even trawl through YouTube, so they need to be careful what pictures, words and activities they leave active on the web.

If your school hasn't had a discussion with parents and pupils about safe use of the internet by now, ask the head to arrange one.

The Child Exploitation & Online Protection Centre (CEOP) has an army of advisers who will come to schools to do just this.

It's never been easier to cheat at homework, there are even online essays available and homework guides online. Tempting though this may be, it's important to remind children that a) cheating is wrong - the internet's fine for research but not for copying out someone else's work and b) you can't believe everything you read on sites full of user-generated content like Wikipedia (and Mumsnet).

It's always worth checking a few sources and, shock horror, occasionally resorting to a book/encyclopaedia. 

Cyber bullying

Most parents are aware of the possibility of bullying and the devastating effects this can have on children of any age, but the internet has made bullying into a whole new ball game.

Instant messaging and email, along with images, can easily be used to embarrass or threaten other children. Messages can also be edited and forwarded on, changing the meaning and causing distress to both recipient and the original sender.

Hacking into email accounts via easily guessed passwords and sending mail as if it's from someone else is also, sadly, quite common.

Make sure your child knows to guard their passwords and watch what they write. Let them know that you are aware of cyber bullying and that they can always tell you if they feel they are being attacked in this way.

Google's safety centre has this video about steering clear of cyber tricks.


Keep a copy of any dubious messages by using the Print screen key and copy (Apple + shift + 4 on a Mac) so you can help your child deal with them in the appropriate way. Talk to your children about cyber bullying and check they're not using the internet as a way of victimising others (teachers as well as other pupils at school).

Last updated: 7 months ago