Online Friendships: Teen Internet Safety

In a digital era, the ways we communicate with one another are everchanging. Coffee catchups with friends become video calls, arranging holiday plans become WhatsApp group chats, job interviews no longer rely on in-person interactions and difficult conversations can now be engineered by AI. In a world where technology is expanding at a rapid rate and new social media platforms are always emerging (or reimagining themselves), it can be overwhelming to keep up as a parent to a super tech-savvy teen. While social media can be great as a means of communicating with others, that’s not to say it doesn’t come without its dangers. In this article, we’ll discuss how you can help your teen stay safe when it comes to socialising online. 

Are There Benefits of Teen Online Friendships?

Before we look at the hazards of teenage online friendships, let’s explore some potential benefits…

Can Encourage More Thoughtful Interactions: In the midst of a heated conversation, sometimes we don’t think before we speak, which can result in hurtful words, even to loved ones. Communicating over message, however, can allow for more time to think through an emotive response to a friend.

Gain Insight of Other Cultures - Online friendships mean the potential to interact with those all around the world. This can be helpful for your teen learning about a culture they may not otherwise get the opportunity to experience.

Communication with Those Who Share Interests - Likewise, technology can also be a great tool for finding similar individuals. Perhaps your teen has a hobby or interest they can’t share with anyone in person and has found a friend online who has this in common.

Escapism - The world can be tough for teens and sometimes we all just need a moment to relax. It may be that the online space and speaking to a friend in an online community is your child’s place to do so.

Digital Dangers and Online Friendships


Just as bullying happens on the playground, it takes place in the online sphere too. Even if your teen may feel they’ve built an online friendship with someone they trust, hidden behind a username and without a verified identity, it can be easy for individuals to troll and bully others from a different account.

To help keep your teen safe from online bullies, it can be useful to encourage conversations with them about this topic. This way, they will hopefully know what signs to look out for and know what to do in these circumstances. Ensure they’re also aware of how to block users on the various platforms that they use, as well as educate them on signs of “catfishing” i.e. someone pretending to be someone they’re not online.

In-Person Social Skills

While technology has undoubtedly created a convenient way of interacting with people all across the world, this isn’t to dispute the importance real-life communication still holds. Reading eye contact, body language, and maintaining a natural flow of conversation are things that can be difficult with digital interactions yet are essential for day-to-day life. So, if you find your teen only seems to have online friends, this can be a worry.

The first step to tackling this is to try and understand the reason why your teen only has online friendships. Are they being bullied in person? Do they not have anything in common with others at school? Should you have any bullying concerns, we signpost you to our Bullying Prevention and Support: Advice and Guidance for Parents article, with how to take action and a list of resources.

If your child is perhaps struggling socially in person, rather than being bullied, don’t immediately be dismissive of friends they’ve made online. Showing curiosity might help them to feel more understood. You can suggest they join an after-school or weekend club to try out a new hobby. Praising and encouraging your teen when they do make in-person interactions can also be helpful as a means of positive reinforcement.

Meeting in Person

When your teen expresses they want to take their online friendships offline, it can be a difficult dilemma. However, asking your permission as their parent or carer is a great sign that they trust your guidance and are aware that they should never meet up with an online friend before coming to you first.

If you are comfortable with your child meeting up with their online friend, there are a few things you may want to run through beforehand. Firstly, verify the friend’s identity via video calls, as well as communicate with the other teen’s parents if you feel necessary. Depending on your teen’s age, you may not want to accompany them to the meetup, but making sure they are aware of safety precautions is essential. This means meeting in a public place, setting clear boundaries, and having an emergency plan.

As parents, it’s impossible to keep tabs on your teen at all times, be it in the real or the online world. And whether you decide to check your teenager’s phone is a personal decision that only you as a parent or carer can make. However, building trust and communication with your teen is key to helping ensure that they can speak to you should they have any concerns about someone they’re talking to online or simply to just check-in.

Related Resources

Friendships-online-resource.pdf (

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