Children and teenagers' online safety

The internet has a lot to offer us all and most parents think the benefits of letting their children online outweigh the risks. As well as offering tips on preventing problems, we look at some of the main issues that concern parents, and where to get help and advice. 

*e.g. computers, games consoles, laptops, tablets, smart TVs

Internet safety tips for parents and carers

Make life online part of family life

It's easier to chat with your child about online safety, and keep an eye on what they're doing, if using the internet is a normal part of home life. Here are some ideas to help with this:

  • make space for them to use their devices in family areas
  • get them to teach you how to use technology (e.g. what all the settings on your phone do, how to set up a Facebook account)
  • talk about what they do online and what their favourite websites are
  • play online games together - they can teach you
  • if you have any shared interests, use the internet to explore them together

This doesn't mean you all have to be glued to a screen! Agree rules about time spent online - you can use parental controls (see below) to help with this.

Some families have an agreement that they put together about how they use the internet. This is a good way to start a conversation about online safety.

It’s also good to talk about how reliable information on the internet is and how to judge what’s trustworthy.

More help and advice

Talk with them about keeping safe online

Depending on their age, your child may know something about online safety but you need to make sure they know NOT to:

  • give out personal information (e.g. real name, email address, home address, phone number, school, password) when they're chatting or posting online
  • share any photos or videos, or post anything that they would be embarrassed for you or strangers to see
  • meet up with someone they have only been in touch with online unless you or another parent/carer is with them
  • click on a link or download anything sent by someone they don't trust; or click on a link from a friend if it's unexpected or suspicious

Let them know that if anything is making them feel uncomfortable or worried, they can tell you, or another trusted adult, without getting into trouble.

Phone the NSPCC helpline - 0808 800 5002 - if you have concerns about their safety online.

More help and advice

How much screen time is too much?

There is lots of information for parents and carers about limiting screen time for their children. But not all screen time is problematic, talking to relatives, doing homework or learning new skills are all things children do online.

For useful information, see Parentzone's Screen time and wellbeing

Use privacy settings and passwords

Social networking sites (e.g. Facebook, Instagram, YouTube) have privacy settings where you can control who can see their page and what they do. Encourage your son or daughter only to allow their friends to see their online activity, and check that they know how to report abuse or block 'friends' that they no longer want contact with.

It's also important to have passwords for all your family's devices, as well as for websites and social networking sites. Remind older children and teenagers to choose strong passwords and to change them regularly.

If you've not used passwords and privacy settings before, ask a trusted friend or relative who's used to the internet to show you how they work.

Set up parental controls

Parental controls are useful for stopping children accessing unsuitable content (e.g. pornography) or for limiting how much time they spend on their devices.

But they aren't the only answer. You still need to chat with your kids about internet safety and keep an eye on what they're doing.

It is quite easy to set up parental controls but they vary depending on what devices you use and who provides your internet service. You should be able to find out how to here on Internet Matters. You can also find helpful video guides by some of the big internet service providers here.

Get to know about social networks

From Whatsapp to Snapchat the NSPCC site provides excellent information about a huge range of games, apps and social networks that children and teenagers use the most.

Your guide to the social networks your kids use

Issues that concern parents and carers

Cyberbullying (online bullying)

Cyberbullying is a type of bullying where someone uses the internet or a mobile phone to bully others e.g. sending nasty or threatening text messages, uploading humiliating photos of them on a social network, excluding them from online gaming. It is almost always an extension of bullying that's going on in the offline world.

It is very upsetting for the children involved and hard for them to talk about. As parents, it's important to understand the issue and know what to do if you're worried.

Here’s a video about bullying, including online bullying.

More help and advice

Sexting and online reputation

Sexting is sending and receiving sexual photos (nude selfies), messages or video clips by text or email, or posting them on social networking sites. Young people may do this simply because everyone else is doing it and they want to fit in, because doing it feels sexy, or because they have been pressurised.

The problem is that once they send a sexual photo or video of themselves, they lose control over who sees it and it may get widely circulated. This can be very upsetting and may have long-term consequences. Sexting is illegal, although children are unlikely to be prosecuted for it.

Here’s a short video about sexting and a series of four short films, Nude Selfies, for advice about what to do.

More help and advice


Porn is easy to find or stumble upon when you're online. This may include violent or extreme porn, which can be very upsetting. Porn can also give young people unrealistic ideas about sex, body image and relationships.

Parental controls (see above) can reduce the amount of porn your child will see but it is almost certain that they will come across it eventually. So, the best thing to do is talk to them about it. Most parents/carers find this difficult - we hope that the following video and information will help you.

Click here to see 'My teen watches porn'

More help and advice

Grooming and webcam abuse

Online grooming is when an abuser befriends a child or young person in a chat room or social network. They try to gain their trust by pretending to be around the same age, having similar interests and being nice to them. This usually happens gradually. When they have the child's trust, they arrange to meet up and then the abuse starts. Or they may ask for sexual photos or videos when they're online and use them to blackmail the child to do more.

Children and young people also use webcams to chat face-to-face (e.g. on Skype). They can be persuaded to behave sexually in front of the camera, unaware that they are being recorded. The video recording may then be used to threaten or blackmail them.

Here are some video stories about on grooming: Jigsaw (8-10 year olds) and Consequences (secondary school age).

More help and advice

Self-harm blogs and pro-eating disorder websites

Sometimes young people who self-harm set-up a blog (online journal) where they share their thoughts and photos of their self-injured bodies. Similarly some websites set up to support people with an eating disorder actually promote the illness as a life choice - these are called pro-ana (pro-anorexia) or pro-mia (pro-bulimia) websites.

If you think that your son or daughter is visiting sites like this, get advice before talking with them about it.