How to safely make online friends

Grace Macej 7 Jul 2022

The best way to help kids make good decisions is by giving them the skills to keep themselves safe.

Over the past few years, classrooms have moved to kitchens and bedrooms and playgrounds have been replaced by online video games. The methods for making friends have forever been altered. Internet friendships are often more common than real-world relationships. And the future can only be forecasted as a complex mix of social media posturing, virtual chat rooms, and in-person awkwardness. 

There’s no doubt that the skills kids need to make friends now must include a certain savvy for meeting and keeping friends online. It doesn’t end with casual friendships. According to 2019 Stanford sociology research, the most popular way US couples meet is through online algorithms. And while dating apps are strictly for 18+-year-old adults, platforms are having trouble keeping high-school-age kids from connecting through their networks.

The best way to help kids make good decisions while building online friendships is to show you care by informing them of the dangers and giving them the skills to keep themselves safe.

Here are 6 online relationship tips to get you started:

1. Start early 

It’s not always easy to bring up this topic, but the younger you start, the better. Be prepared to have this conversation when kids ask for a new app or game or when they talk about their favorite online activities. Make their first foray into social media a major milestone in their lives, accompanied by the same type of seriousness and celebration as getting a driver’s license. 

2. Emphasize etiquette 

People of every age struggle with being kind online. There’s something about the anonymity of a comment box and a keyboard that lures normally nice folks into speaking without consideration for the human beings on the other side of the screen. Horrifying behaviors like cyberbullying, lying, oversharing, and hate speech all need to be addressed early and often. Set expectations for what’s right and wrong according to your family values and strive to leave the online world a better place than you found it.

3. Keep doors open 

This tip has two meanings. It’s important to always be available for your child to come to you with questions and concerns about their online relationships. And it’s also important to keep physical doors – like bedroom and basement doors – open to help monitor the kind of conversations and content kids are experiencing when they are online. Be aware of a combination of warning signs like long hours spent online, secretive screen and phone hiding when you enter the room, unexpected physical gifts being delivered, and withdrawal from family life.

4. Talk about privacy 

Online privacy isn’t just about what kids are intentionally oversharing, it’s also about guarding their data and yours from being hacked or scammed. Avast has lots of free advice and information to arm yourself and your children against online predators.

5. Enable control filters 

It’s up to you to correctly set up new computers, tablets, consoles, smart wearables, phones, etc. and update old devices. Make sure the privacy settings are protecting you, your family, and your home by limiting access. Don’t leave cameras, Wi-Fi networks, or other smart home devices set to “public”. Talk to your children about common scams that an email filter may catch, but a casual chat with a malicious link from a stranger may not. 

6. Revisit the topic often 

Unfortunately, this discussion isn’t a one-and-done conversation. If you feel like it’s been too long since you’ve talked about safe relationships online, chances are it’s been far too long. Set recurring reminders in your personal calendar to check up on your kid’s mental health and internet activity. Every kid is different, but as they grow older, they naturally withdraw and become more independent. Hopefully they’ll always know you’re there to offer advice, solutions, and ultimately the kind of kindness and forgiveness only a parent can provide. 

Get more detailed tips and safety information by reading our online safety for kids e-book and the seven rules of online safety.