Talking about online communication

Media stories about cyberbullying and trolling are now fairly common, with so many new communication tools online it can be hard to keep up.

ReachOut Parents Youth Mental HealthThe ways in which young people are using technology changes constantly and the media does a lot to create fear and moral panic around this area.

Know what’s out there

The internet brings so much knowledge to our fingertips, but like anything there is a downside. It also brings new behaviours parents need to know about and understand.

Along with educating yourself on what’s out there and how people are using it, talking to your son or daughter about their and their friends’ use can be the best way to keep on top of it all.

Potentially negative situations that have arisen


There have been some alarming media stories about grooming. This is where someone older forges a connection with a younger person, with the aim of exploiting them.

Bear in mind these stories are the exception to the rule and relatively uncommon, but there’s no question parents and young people need to be aware of it.


This is where people go about deliberately starting arguments, or try to upset people online. Recently the term is used in the media about cases of online harassment.

As with incidents of cyberbullying, what one person finds to be an offensive or an inflammatory comment, may not be the same to another.


Abusive or offensive comments, videos, images or posts online. Read more about cyberbullying.

It is worth noting in cases of cyberbullying, bullying in the traditional sense, is generally being experienced also.

Lack of face-to-face communication

Ongoing online behaviour, either social networking or gaming, without the benefits of strong face-to-face relationships can lead to a sense of isolation for young people.

While the internet is a great connector for young and old, a balance needs to be struck with face-to-face time.

Barriers between parents and young people 

Continuous time online or playing games can an create a barrier between teens, or young people and their parents.

Inappropriate content

Some young people share images, intimate or otherwise, with peers, or boyfriends or girlfriends in good faith that they will go nowhere else.

Young people need to be made aware that when something is online it can be hard to control.

Sleep hygiene

At this point most of us know the impact of too much screen time late into the night. Boundaries should be set for all to wind down for bed.

It’s a good habit for the whole family to switch off phones, laptops, TVs and games consoles a good hour or two before bedtime.

Improving relationships

Although concerns regarding lack of personal interaction are legitimate, there are so many positives in how technology connects people.

The internet is a great connector for young and old people alike, allowing them to connect through interests and similarities, overcoming geographic boundaries.

The advent of online chat rooms, websites and social network groups dedicated to particular communities has helped people find support they would have found difficult to access before.

Read: Through the internet gay teens connected to larger community.

Starting the conversation

Easier said than done, but try to keep an open mind about how young people use technology. To find out about your son or daughter and their use of technology you need to keep the lines of communication open.

It can be easy to react to a story in the media about cyberbullying that took place in a school in an accusing manner. Unfortunately, this is more likely to make a young person shut down.

Young people ‘issues’ with parents and the internet

Young people we’ve spoken with told us about parents hearing negative media stories about young people and their use of the internet. This has led them to assume all young people, including their own son/daughter were engaging in similar risky behaviours.

They told us about the need for parents to engage openly in a conversation with their son/daughter and respect their need for privacy and to learn to trust them.

Use open-ended questions

Open-ended questions let young people open up a bit more. Start with “how?” or “what?”. For example “How do you feel about …?” can open people up more than “Do you feel like…?”

Use some of the media story as a conversation starter. For example: “I was reading this the other day about Snapchat, I’d never heard of it before. Can you tell me about it…?”

This allows them to share their knowledge without feeling accused or untrusted. They will probably know more than you about social media no matter how savvy you are, so listen and learn.


Talk to them about their privacy controls online. Depending on their age, it can be a case of you working it out together. Make sure you both know what’s public and what’s private.

See online safety tips for more information about privacy.

Setting boundaries

You do need to set some rules for their technology use. How and what you do about this will vary greatly depending on their age.

What can be most effective, from the mid-teens on, is to include them in the decision as to what these boundaries are, and the consequences if they’re crossed.

The rules and limitations you set need to be enforced. If they’re not, it is worse than not having any at all.

Digital citizen

Do try to instil a sense of being a good citizen, online and offline. Make sure they’re aware the same rules apply.

Try to discuss ways of being polite to other people online and the impact if they’re not. Encourage your son or daughter to think about what they’re saying or doing online and whether it might be hurtful or could embarrass someone else.

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