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Teen Internet Privacy and Safety (TIPS) for Parents

–Your teenager can text on a cell phone, talk on a PDA and walk while dancing to an MP3 player–at the same time.

But is she ready for the choices, challenges, rushes and risks of the Internet?

Three reasons to guide your teen's Internet use
Internet safety TIPS
Is your teen in contact with an online stranger?

Three reasons why you should guide your teen's Internet use

  1. Teens are one click away from a big, unfiltered world
    Adolescence is a time of change. Suddenly your child is trying on new attitudes, clothes, music, activities and friends.

    Before the Internet era, teens' exploration was limited—to their street, school, neighborhood or the boundaries of a car drive or subway ride.

    Today the Internet lets kids navigate the wide world.
  2. Teens don't "get" privacy
    Teens often mistakenly think the Internet is a private world.

    But once your child posts, emails and Instant Messages (IMs)—or shares music or photos–the electronic markers stay online pretty much forever.

    Crude, cruel words and cyber-bullying are also an online reality. And virtual words can sometimes be more damaging to sensitive teens than real-life confrontations.
  3. Sexual predators know how to talk the talk with teens
    Worse than embarrassing themselves, teens face real dangers from online strangers. 
    • 50,000 sexual predators lurk in cyberspace at any given time, say law enforcement officials.
    • More than 50 percent of all teenagers communicate online frequently with someone they've never met.
    • Over 37 percent of teens have received a sexually explicit online link.

Internet safety TIPS

Try to keep an open mind as you discuss Internet use with your teen. Take a look at the following suggestions–and find guidelines that work for you.

  • Spend time exploring the Internet with your teenager. Sit down with your child and check out her favorite websites and activities. Be sure to visit Facebook and other social media sights together. Point out your teen's account settings: Kids are often surprised to learn that so-called "privacy" settings are not so private.
  • Put the computer in the living room or other commonly used area: It's much harder for a sexual predator to develop a relationship with your child when the computer is located where you can see the screen.
  • Consider checking your teen's email periodically. But be honest: Tell your son or daughter you have access–and why you feel it's important to check.
  • Check your computer's browser history from time to time to see the sites your teen has visited. Learn how to check your browser's history.

Some suggestions are flexible. Others aren't. Get your kids' buy-in on the following ground rules:

  • Never set up a real meeting with someone you meet online.
  • Don't upload photos or videos of yourself to anyone you don't know well.
  • Don't download photos from strangers—they're very likely to be sexually explicit.
  • Never post your name, home address, school name, telephone number—or any other identifying features–online.
  • Don't automatically believe what people write online–even if they seem friendly and honest.

Is your teen wandering into the Internet Danger Zone?
Here are four signs that alert you to potential dangers:

  • Your teen isolates from family and friends–and spends a lot of time online at night.
  • You find pornography on your child's computer.
  • Your teen gets mail, gifts and packages from someone you don't know.
  • Your teen turns off the computer screen quickly when you pass by.

Is your teen in contact with an online stranger?

If you suspect your teenager's communicating with a sexual predator, try to stay calm and avoid accusations.

Here are a few ways to learn more about your child's online relationships:

  • Check your child's web browser history to see what site he or she has been visiting. Learn how to check your browser's history.
  • Use caller ID to find out who's calling your home phone or your child's cell phone. If available through your phone company, pay for service that blocks incoming numbers you choose.

Think twice before forbidding your child to go online or to chat rooms. A severe restriction may send his or her behavior underground.

Need more resources on teen Internet safety? See, a website sponsored by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Want to protect younger children from child abuse? Check out our pages for families and download a Children's Educational Activities Book (PDF).

Think you know about child abuse? Think twice—and take our quiz to learn some surprising facts.