Talking to Kids About Good Online Behavior

Parents Talking to Kids About Online Safety

Today, access to the internet is pervasive. And while the internet has many benefits, it also carries some risks. As parents, we need to talk to our kids about how to navigate the digital world safely and responsibly.  This is not a one-time discussion. It’s ongoing because the internet is always changing and evolving.

Here’s how you can start the conversation and build a safe online environment for your family. 

1. Start early

Today, exposure to the internet begins at a young age. Yet 18% of teens say they haven’t talked with anybody about what good online behavior looks like. Don’t wait to start talking to your kids about proper internet behavior and setting appropriate boundaries.

For younger children, this might be as simple as setting time limits on screen use, disciplining yourself not to use technology as a pacifier to calm rowdy behavior, and encouraging offline play and interactions.

As your kids get older, budget more screen time paired with more responsibility and accountability. Eventually, you can also start introducing more mature topics of conversation, such as internet safety, cyberbullying, and privacy.

By opening the lines of communication early, you can set clear expectations from the start and help guide your kids along the way.     

2. Do your homework

Before you sit down with your child, brush up on the latest internet trends and social apps. If your kid uses social media, what channels are they active on?

Some of the most popular platforms for today’s teens and tweens include:

  • Instagram
  • Snapchat
  • Kik Messenger
  • Tumblr 
  • Tik Tok
  • Whatsapp
  • Twitch
  • Roblox
  • Discord

Despite their popularity, these apps carry risks—particularly for budding teens and young adults who are still learning how to navigate the internet and digital relationships.

In order to give your child the best guidance, you need to understand what platforms they are using and how those apps work—including their privacy settings, age requirements, and the kind of information that is shared. Armed with that knowledge, you can set appropriate boundaries and educate your child on the risks and best practices for online safety. 

3. Explain the risks

Explain the risks of online activity

Once you understand how your kids engage online, you can better address the specific risks involved.

Talk to your kids about these risks (as developmentally appropriate). By outlining the dangers and consequences of certain behaviors, you can help your children understand not only what they should do, but why.

As you discuss internet safety, consider teaching your children about the following:

  • Privacy issues: Oversharing personal information or details could put you at risk for identity theft or embarrassment. 
  • Harassment or bullying: Many apps and social platforms make it easy for kids and adults alike to participate in bullying behavior—whether that’s spreading gossip, sharing others’ private content (like sensitive photos), or writing hurtful comments. 
  • Reputation management: What happens on the internet doesn’t just go away. Things that happened online years ago could come up again later in life, such as during college applications or job interviews.  

Explain that because of these risks, you will be setting certain rules and guidelines for how the family uses the internet. 

4. Set expectations 

As with other areas of parenting, internet use in your household should have clear guidelines based on your family values and each kid’s maturity level. Setting limits isn’t always easy—especially if you are parenting a teenager—but it is important to be open and honest about what you expect of them and how they will be held accountable.

The exact limits you set will depend on your child’s age and maturity. Keep in mind that you will likely need to revisit your “house rules” with the family periodically as your children grow and they adopt new technology (e.g., upgrading to a smartphone).

If parents are living apart and children are living in two different households, make sure both of you are on the same page setting consistent ground rules in each home.

In addition to time limits, consider outlining basic dos and don’ts of online behavior. These might include:

  • Never share passwords, addresses, or other private information over the internet.
  • Don’t illegally download content.
  • Don’t download unknown files from the internet (or ask an adult to check potential downloads).  
  • Avoid accepting friend requests or messages from strangers.
  • Never set up a meeting with someone you’ve only talked to online.
  • Be respectful; remember that online anonymity isn’t an excuse for bullying or other meanspirited behavior.
  • Don’t share friends’ information or content without permission. 
  • Always sign out of accounts when using public computers. 

Sit down with your children and explain your expectations and map these guidelines in a formal family media use plan.

Teaching your kids about internet safety and good habits online takes time and patience. It is not a one-off event but an ongoing conversation. As you stay involved in their lives—both online and offline—you will be able to guide them more effectively and help them develop into successful digital citizens.  

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