Safeguards for Technology: Two Critical Online Safety Topics to Cover With Your Teens

online safety teen on computer

Tips and Resources for Teaching Teens Online and Social Media Safety Skills

Parenting teenagers has never been easy, and in the age of smartphones and social media it can be downright overwhelming to know where to begin the critical task of teaching your teen how to stay safe online. 

That’s why Hospitality Health ER has put together a list of tech safety topics to cover with your teens that you can use as a starting point and customize for your family’s preferences, along with plenty of helpful resources and examples.

Topic #1: Safeguarding Identifying Information Online

Basic online safety starts by building an awareness in your teen that sharing too many details about themselves online can have serious consequences, including identity theft. Check out On Guard Online, created by the Federal Trade Commission, for lots of interactive resources, games, and videos that teach teens online safety. It can be helpful to organize your guidelines for your teen in a Family Online Safety Contract. You can find a printable example online at the Family Online Safety Institute

Safeguarding Identifying Information Tips to Emphasize With Your Teens

Keep Your Personal Information Safe From Prying Eyes

Do not post sensitive information, including addresses, phone numbers, birthdays, social security numbers, driver’s license numbers, or any other personally identifying information. Similarly, be careful with public wifi! Assume your activity can be seen when you’re on a public hotspot, and act accordingly.

Double Check Your Pictures Before Posting

It’s way too easy to accidentally share way too much identifying information in pictures! Stop and think before posting to make sure you’re not accidentally giving away information that people could use to steal your identity or find you in real life. It may be tempting to post a selfie with your first driver’s license on Instagram, but if you do that you’ve just given away your birthday, address, and ID photo. Even a cute picture of your dog can give away your address or phone number if the dog tag is clearly visible.  

Topic #2: Navigating Social Media

It can be difficult for teens to put what they see on social media in context, whether it be a news story with questionable sourcing or their news feed depicting only the best and most shareable aspects of other people’s lives. Knowing how to distinguish what’s true from what’s fake online has become a key life skill, with implications for safety, mental health, and reputation. 

Help your teen stay safe on social media by setting boundaries around privacy settings. Check your teen’s social media privacy settings and verify that the people on your teen’s social media are real people that your teen actually knows. You can also help your teen keep social media in context by making sure they get a good mix of in-person, tech-free interaction to counterbalance the social life of social media.

Numerous resources are available to help you teach your teen how to distinguish what’s real from what’s posted. To help your teen learn how to tell if a news source is valid or not, check out Project Look Sharp for resources and guides. For information related to  all aspects of parenting in the age of social media, check out the social media facts and advice hub for parents put together by Internet Matters, including resources specifically crafted for teaching kids how to spot fake news.

Social Media Safeguarding Tips to Emphasize With Your Teens

What Gets Posted Online Stays Online

If you think there’s a chance you might someday regret posting something online, don’t post it. Assume what you post online will be there forever, and limit your posts to what you’re comfortable with everyone—from future dates to future bosses—knowing about. The same principle applies to sexting and sending suggestive pictures by text. Stop and think before posting anything online and ask yourself, what information about myself am I giving away, and would it be easy for someone with bad intentions to use it against me?

People in Real Life Are Not Always What They Seem Online

People share what they want you to see about themselves online, but that’s rarely the full story. Try to remember that there’s always more to the story you’re not seeing when you get the temptation to compare yourself with your friends as they present themselves on social media, especially when you’re feeling down. For the same reason, be very skeptical about anyone who contacts you online that you don’t know in person, and never meet a stranger you met online in real life.

Do Your Part to Spot and Stop Fake News

A lie can travel the world while the truth’s still putting on its shoes. Social media makes it easy to share stories that seem true but in fact are not based on credible reporting, and that’s dangerous because misinformation can then circulate far and wide. Before sharing a news story or information you got online but have not verified, check the author and publication to see if it’s a valid news source.

Before deciding that a news story is true, read the full article, not just the headline, and think about whether the story’s claims are supported by strong evidence.

Consider these questions when evaluating a news source’s credibility:

  • Who made this?
  • Who is the target audience?
  • Who paid for this? Or, who gets paid if you click on this?
  • Who might benefit or be harmed by this message?
  • What is left out of this message that might be important?
  • Is this credible (and what makes you think that)?

Finally, ask a trusted adult for guidance if you’re having trouble evaluating the credibility of a news story you see online.


Read more about parenting the modern teen in Hospitality Health ER’s series on Raising a Well-Rounded Teenager: Parts I, II, III, and IV. For more parenting tips, make sure to follow along with our Hospitality Health ER blog. We’ve recently covered other topics on parenting teens in “How To Keep Your Teen From Texting While Driving” and “Is My Child Starting Puberty?” For giveaways, updates, and COVID-19 tips, like us on Facebook and Instagram