Essential Ways to Help Your Child Manage Online Friendships

Written by Dr Lucy Russell DClinPsyc CPsychol AFBPsS
Dr Lucy Russell Clinical Psychologist Founder of They Are The Future
Author: Dr Lucy Russell, Clinical Psychologist

Have you ever wondered how as a parent you can help your child manage online friendships?

Cyberbullies and peers can pose challenges, but there are ways you can support your child.

In today’s digital age, guiding your child through the complexities of video games and online relationships is crucial. It’s important to be aware of cyberbullies and to teach your child how to navigate video chat safely.

As parents, it’s crucial to have a clear strategy to support our kids in navigating their virtual friendships and protecting them from cyberbullies.

Ensuring their safety online is of utmost importance.

Helping Children Manage Online Friendships: Developing a Strategy

So, how can you as a parent empower your child to thrive in the virtual world and maintain digital etiquette while staying safe?

In this article, we’ll discuss the importance of guiding kids through the virtual world. But most importantly I’ll give you some practical tips for keeping your child safe while interacting online. It’s crucial to protect children from child predators in this digital landscape.

A teenager on his laptop, smiling

Online Friendships: The Changing Landscape of Social Interaction in Young People

Online friendship among kids is becoming increasingly common.

Kids often turn to their peers for advice and support in their online interactions… It’s quick and easy. They no longer have to wait until you they see a friend at school.

In turn, I have noticed that this means interactions tend to be shorter, more frequent, and perhaps less deep.

What do you think?

The Value of Internet Friendships and the Importance of Support

Recognizing the Value of Digital Social Connections

Recognizing the positive impact of internet friendships in virtual worlds on kids’ social lives is important. We want to make sure we are getting alongside them in our understanding of their lives, not working against them.

It’s important to ask ourselves how online peer relationships can benefit children.

Digital connections provide an avenue for kids to expand their circle of friends and explore different ways of building healthy friendships.

Online friendships can be just as meaningful for kids as offline ones, offering support, communication, and shared interests.

Diverse Friendships

Online friends can offer a unique perspective on things that may not be present within their offline circle, especially for kids.

Having a diverse range of friends, both offline and online, has numerous benefits. Internet friendships allow children to connect with people from different backgrounds, cultures, or even countries.

This exposure broadens their horizons by introducing new perspectives and expanding their understanding of the world.

Supporting Children in Online Friendships

Engaging with your kids about their internet friendships is crucial in assessing how safe they are.

Ask them about their friends’ interests, experiences, and how they communicate with each other. This will help strengthen the bond between you and your kids while also showing them that you value their online friendships.


Benefits of Digital Relationships for Children’s Social Development

Enhancing Communication Skills

Online friendships offer children the opportunity to enhance their communication skills.

Through digital interactions, children learn how to express themselves effectively and clearly.

They develop the ability to convey their thoughts and emotions concisely, improving their overall communication skills.

Deepening Empathy and Understanding

If a child doesn’t have deeper face-to-face friendships they may miss out on the opportunity to learn how to support others and show they care. Through online friendships they can develop empathy, listening and caring skills.

Opportunities for Collaboration and Learning

Digital relationships open doors for collaboration and learning in social activities. Children can connect with others who share similar interests, expanding their peer group beyond geographical limitations.

Through online platforms, they can collaborate on projects, exchange ideas, and engage in extracurricular activities that promote personal growth.

A girl messaging a friend on her phone

Providing a Sense of Belonging

Virtual communities can provide a sense of belonging for children that they may not have in the face to face world.

In online spaces, they have greater opportunities to find like-minded individuals who share common interests or experiences.

This sense of belonging contributes positively to their mental health, as they feel accepted and supported within these communities.

Nurturing Social Skills

Engaging in digital relationships helps nurture social skills in children. Interacting through online platforms requires adhering to digital etiquette, which teaches them about appropriate behavior in virtual spaces.

They learn how to communicate respectfully, resolve conflicts peacefully, and establish boundaries.

Of course, these are all valuable social skills that extend beyond the digital realm.

Digital Relationships: Complementary, Not a Replacement

In my view, digital relationships complement traditional face-to-face interactions and obviously should not replace them entirely.

By embracing both forms of connection, children benefit from a well-rounded social development experience.

The secret is in getting a balance between the two, and that’s not easy.

Strategies to Help Teens Navigate Online Friendships

Teaching your teen about setting boundaries and managing expectations in online friendships is crucial. Unfortunately, the most vulnerable teens can easily run into trouble online. They may agree to things they are not comfortable with for example, or post comments they later regret.

It’s important for them to understand that just like in real life, it’s necessary to establish limits and be aware of what they’re comfortable with.

Try to encourage regular open conversations with your teen about this topic.

Discussing the importance of privacy and protecting personal information is an area that is often overlooked by parents. We may think our kids already know about this, but we may be wrong.

Make sure your teen understands the risks associated with sharing too much online. Remind them not to disclose sensitive details such as their address or phone number unless it’s absolutely necessary.

If you can foster open communication with your teen regarding any issues they face online, they will be more likely to come to you for guidance whenever needed. Try to provide a safe space for them to share their experiences without fear of judgment.

Helping your teen develop critical thinking skills is also a must-have. They need to be able to evaluate the authenticity and trustworthiness of their online friends.

Teach them how to spot red flags. Encourage skepticism when they are interacting with strangers on the internet.

Remind them that not everyone may have good intentions, so it’s crucial to approach new connections cautiously.

A boy being helped by his dad to safely use the internet on his laptop

Remember, children’s friendships tend to change in line with children’s development.

For example, a 7 year old child’s friendships might be fairly superficial and based on a shared interest or running around together.

As children get older they tend to aim for making and keeping friends with whom they can have a deeper connection and shared values.

Supporting Your Child in Making Friends Online

Now let’s look at how you can help your child make positive relationships online.

Starting Points: Helping Your Child Make and Benefit From Online Friends

Making social connection with like-minded peers in the online world can be a great way for children and teens to expand their social connections and share their interests.

Here are some tips on how to assist your child in building meaningful relationships in the digital age:

  1. Explore technology-related interest groups or clubs: Encourage your children to join online communities that cater to their specific interests. Whether it’s coding, robotics, or graphic design, there are many kids out there who share similar interests. These groups provide a platform for young adults to engage in conversations, share skills, and collaborate on projects.
  2. Promote participation in online gaming communities: Video games can offer more than just entertainment; they can also foster teamwork and collaboration. Help your child find multiplayer games that encourage cooperation among players. Through these experiences, they can connect with peers who enjoy the same games and develop valuable communication skills.
  3. Find safe and moderated online spaces: Ensure that your child is engaging in a secure environment when making new friends online. Look for platforms or forums that have strict moderation policies in place, ensuring a safe space for conversations and interactions.
  4. Support attendance at virtual events or webinars: Many organizations host virtual events or webinars focused on various hobbies or passions. Encourage your child to attend these events as they provide an opportunity to meet new people who share similar interests. They can participate actively through discussions, ask questions, and even make connections outside of the event.

Helping your child navigate the world of online friendships requires active involvement as a parent. Obviously, this will decrease as your child gets older, if they have the appropriate level of emotional and social skills.

By following these suggestions, you can support them in finding like-minded peers, developing social skills, and expanding their horizons beyond school boundaries.

A mum and daughter looking at a phone together

The Importance of Offline Connections in Addition to Online Friendships

While online friendships can provide opportunities for connection, it’s important to discuss the value of face-to-face interactions.

In-person meetings allow children to develop social skills and emotional connections that go beyond what can be achieved through screens.

Teach your child about the benefits of building real-life friendships based on shared experiences.

Here are some key points to consider:

  • Play dates: Organize play dates or outings where your child can interact with their friends in person. This will help them form stronger bonds and understand the importance of real-life interactions.
  • Face-to-face social skills: Explain and show how facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice are social cues which contribute to effective face to face communication. Emphasize that these non-verbal cues are often missed in online conversations.
  • Young children: For younger children who may struggle with understanding complex emotions, real-life interactions provide an opportunity to learn empathy and develop better emotional intelligence.
  • Conversations: Engage your child in conversations about their experiences with both online and offline friendships. Encourage them to reflect on what they enjoy about each type of relationship.

By teaching your child about the downsides of relying solely on online relationships, you can help them navigate the real world with confidence while avoiding isolation or dependence on virtual connections alone.

Remember, striking a balance between digital interactions and offline experiences is key for their overall well-being and development.

Help Your Child Manage Online Friendships: Ensuring Safety

Cyberbullying and grooming are just a few examples of the challenges some vulnerable children may face.

You need to be sure that your child has the maturity to make a safe online friend.

If not, they will need close monitoring and support.

Establishing clear rules and guidelines regarding internet usage is crucial to help your child manage online friendships safely. 

Here are some tips to help you monitor and guide your child’s online friendships:

  1. Use parental control software or settings: Take advantage of parental control tools available on devices and apps to monitor your child’s online activities. Parental controls allow you to filter content, set time limits, and track their interactions.
  2. Regularly communicate with your child: As I have mentioned before, you should talk openly with your child about their online friends. Encourage them to share any concerns or uncomfortable situations they may encounter. Building trust will make it easier for them to seek guidance when needed.
  3. Educate yourself on popular social media platforms: Stay informed about the social media platforms and apps young people commonly use. For example, one of the risks associated with Snapchat is that if location is turned on, others can see where you are. This knowledge will enable you to better understand the potential risks associated with these platforms.
  4. Encourage offline interactions: While online friendships can be valuable, encourage your child to also nurture positive friendships with close friends in person. Balancing virtual connections with real-life friends is essential for their social needs.
  5. Teach them about the signs of a healthy friendship: Help your child recognize what constitutes a healthy online friendship versus an unhealthy one. Discuss topics like mutual respect, trust, and support so they can identify red flags if they arise.
  6. Be aware of the risks of child predators: Sadly, there are individuals who prey on children online. Make sure your child understands the importance of privacy settings, not sharing personal information with strangers, and being cautious when communicating with unfamiliar individuals.

A boy gaming on his computer

Finding Balance: Keeping an Eye on Your Child’s Online Activities

The internet has become an integral part of our lives, especially for children.

While online friendships can be beneficial, it’s crucial to help your child manage their virtual relationships and strike a balance with real-life interactions.

Here are some practical tips to ensure your child maintains healthy online habits:

  1. Set limits on screen time: Encourage your child to engage in a variety of activities by setting boundaries on how much time they spend online. Limiting screen time will allow them to explore other interests, interact face-to-face with friends, and develop essential social skills. I find it helpful to negotiate a mix of online and offline activities. For example, “if you practise your guitar and help me load the dishwasher, you can have an hour of gaming time.”
  2. Monitor behavior changes: Keep a close eye on your child’s behavior and look out for any signs of distress or negative impact resulting from excessive internet use. If you notice them having a hard time in social situations or struggling to maintain real-life friendships, it may be a sign that they are spending too much time online.
  3. Establish tech-free zones or times: Create designated areas or specific periods within the household where technology is not allowed. For me, the bedroom is an absolute no for phones or any sort of gaming devices. Children need some tech-free time where their mind is not always “on the go” and they can wind down.
  4. Promote alternative activities: Actively encourage your child to explore outdoor play, hobbies, or other offline activities that interest them. By providing alternatives, you give them the opportunity to develop new skills, make connections outside the digital world, and keep their focus balanced between virtual and real-life experiences.

two girls hugging


Can online friendships be as meaningful as offline ones?

Yes! Online friendships can be just as meaningful as offline ones. While they may lack physical proximity, they provide opportunities for shared interests, emotional support, and personal growth. They can feel less pressured than face-to-face friendships so they can be easier for many children.

How can I ensure my child’s safety when making friends online?

To ensure your child’s safety when making friends online:

  1. Set clear guidelines on privacy settings.
  2. Teach them about sharing personal information cautiously.
  3. Encourage them to report any suspicious or uncomfortable interactions.
  4. Regularly monitor their online activities without invading their privacy.

Should I limit my child’s screen time?

While it is essential to set boundaries around screen time, completely limiting it may not be feasible or beneficial. Instead, focus on creating a healthy balance between online and offline activities.

How can I help my child develop social skills through online friendships?

Encourage your child to engage in meaningful conversations, practice empathy, and resolve conflicts respectfully. Encourage them to participate in group activities or join online communities centered around their interests.

What if my child becomes too dependent on online friendships?

If you notice your child becoming overly reliant on online friendships, you will need to re-define your rules about online time, using empathy and understanding at the same time.

Gently encourage them to diversify their social interactions by participating in offline activities, joining clubs or organizations, and spending time with friends and family in person.

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Dr Lucy Russell is a UK clinical psychologist who works with children and families. Her work involves both therapeutic support and autism assessments. She is the Clinical Director of Everlief Child Psychology, and also worked in the National Health Service for many years.

In 2019 Lucy launched They Are The Future, a support website for parents of school-aged children. Through TATF Lucy is passionate about giving practical, manageable strategies to parents and children who may otherwise struggle to find the support they need.

Lucy is a mum to two teenage children. She lives in Buckinghamshire with her husband, children, rescue dog and three rescue cats. She enjoys caravanning and outdoor living, singing and musical theatre.

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