How can I help my child manage their friendships online safely?

Whether it’s adding to their streak on Snapchat or catching up with friends on Facetime, social media has changed the way children interact and share online. To support children our experts provide simple tips to help.

School children outside

Martha Evans

Director, Anti-Bullying Alliance
Expert Website

Adults can easily forget how much friends matter to children and teenagers. It is a normal part of a child’s development to want to ‘belong’ and to have lots of friends. This is equally true for relationships online – there is pressure to be seen as popular, and this can mean that children ‘friend’ as many people as possible on social networking sites. To your child these ‘friendships’ matter.

Here are some tips for helping you talk about digital relationships with your child:

  • Talk to your child about what it is to be a friend – explain the value of true friendship – such as trust, respect and kindness. Show them the value of their friendship to others. Help them to recognise when other people may be bullying them online.
  • Don’t humiliate or belittle their desire for a romantic or sexual relationship but do discuss some of the risks of online relationships – such as people putting up fake profiles or sharing your private thoughts and feelings with other people.
  • Don’t be afraid of technology – let your child be in control by showing you the sorts of sites they like to visit to make friends, or to link up with friends and peers. Ask them to show you how you set the privacy settings or how you would block someone that is upsetting you. If they don’t know, then make time to learn together.

Dr. Linda Papadopoulos

Psychologist, Author, Broadcaster and Internet Matters Ambassador
Expert Website

One of the key difficulties is the cues that young people have for communicating face to face and reading emotion –  aren’t there. It takes a while to build this up online as there is huge scope for misreading things, which can make children upset. Parents should talk about the difference between verbal and written communication and how people understand the meaning behind things they see online. For example, pictures you may be really proud such as a picture of you winning at sports day, can be read as boasting perhaps. That’s why parents need to have nuanced discussions about how to assimilate each others’ behaviour.  What parents do is discuss is how we the discourse is often different.

The other key thing about managing children’s digital relationships is the feedback they get online. A child may be upset their friend didn’t like a picture or they may feel pressure to like every picture that a certain friends post. Parents need to discuss why they post images such as if they like what they posted, isn’t that what’s really important or can posting a picture or not like a picture be seen as an act of aggression. This will really help minimise the impact that has on children. If they feel upset about something – its’ about moving it on from an emoji to a conversation in the offline world.

Dr Tamasine Preece

Head of Personal and Social Education
Expert Website

Smartphones have the ability to disrupt the very normal – albeit challenging – process of developing the skills and experience needed to manage their increasingly complex relationships. Digital communication often fails to capture the nuance and subtext of human relationships and conversations can often be taken out of context, leading to upset.

A printscreen or image relating to the conflict may then be shared with the wider per group who often offer judgement and blame in ways that are disproportionate to the original offence. Many young people express marked anxiety within their relationships as they become hypervigilant and mistrustful of their friends. The most detrimental aspect of digitally mediated relationships is, in my experience, the lack of space that it affords the young person to ‘cool off’ and reflect on a course or action or response before responding.

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