Help Teens Avoid Online Mistakes

Help Teens Avoid and Overcome Online Mistakes

Think about what you share on social media. How would you answer these questions?

  • Have you posted something online and later regretted it?
  • Did something bad happen to you as a result of something you posted?
  • Have you ever felt uncomfortable or embarrassed because someone learned something about you online?

Now, imagine your teenager reacting to the same questions. How do you think he or she would respond?

Be Your Teen’s Digital Support System

As teens grow up, they make mistakes. It’s normal and expected. In fact, children sometimes need to make false steps so they can learn from them. It helps them to become better prepared and fully functioning adults. What makes errors in judgment today different from the ones teens made before the digital age is they last longer and more friends (and friends of friends) see, hear, and may talk about them.

To avoid mistakes, and overcome them, too, we as parents and caregivers must be our child’s digital advocate. Just as we offer guidance in other areas of adolescent life, including how best to interact with peers in person and nurture positive relationships, we must also teach proper ways to act online. For guidance on raising a good digital citizen — whether your teen is using social media or simply searching the Internet — check out this helpful guide.

…if and when our tweens and teens make a mistake, we must respond and offer help without causing more upset or shame.

Prevention is the First Step

Preventing online misbehavior is key. Learning about the different social media apps and sites your tween or teen is using helps. A great way to understand the basics is by watching a series of videos, some as short as 37 and 56 seconds, produced by Common Sense Media. With subjects such as “What is Snapchat?” ”What is Kik?” and “What is Instagram?”, these primers make understanding your teen’s digital universe easier.

One of the best strategies for ensuring teens’ positive use of social media is following their accounts, particularly when they’re just beginning to use it. “Friend” your son or daughter on Twitter, WhatsApp, or Facebook. By keeping an eye on your teen’s use of social media, you’re able to offer suggestions on what’s appropriate to share online and what’s not. You may also want to consider asking open-ended questions such as “Would you say that to your friend if he was sitting right next to you in class?” or “Do you think you know that friend well enough to share that kind of information about yourself?”

Make conversations ongoing. And please remember this: If and when tweens and teens make mistakes, parents must respond and offer help without causing additional upset or shame.

Building Your Child Up

Caroline Knorr, Senior Parenting Editor at Common Sense Media, urges parents to help children as much as possible with an eye toward the future not the past. “Parents must assure their children they are more than any mistake they’ve made,” she says. “They need to be reminded of all the awesome things they do. Their missteps are not who they are.”

Teens should also be taught bad decisions can be overcome. “Life is about being resilient,” Knorr says. “Teenagers need to learn they can bounce back.”

Maureen Maier, Vice President of Girl Experience and Property at Girl Scouts of Eastern Pennsylvania, a division that includes 40,000 girls, says a primary goal of the entire organization is helping tweens and teens sharpen their communication tools so they have the skillset to overcome any challenge. “It’s important we help girls recognize they have the ability to create paths to fix problems,” Maier says. “We help build the kind of self-confidence that enables girls to talk directly about the issues troubling them and envision solutions to resolve them.”

When Additional Help Is Needed

There are many companies that promise to wash content off the internet. These services make big promises. So, it’s worth investigating closely before you spend any money. Another avenue to explore is to contact search engines and social media platforms with a content removal request. Both of these actions are potentially helpful, but they may take a bit of time.


Tips for Recovery After a Bad Online Decision

Once something is posted online it can be hard to make it go away. Click through to find out how you can support your teen to start fresh, recover and learn from an online mistake.


Take a Technology Time-out

Time away can allow emotions to cool down. It’s hard to make good decisions when emotional. Passage of time also encourages others to move on.


Start Over

Create a fresh account. Just be sure that when deactivating the old account you read the fine print to make sure it’s truly disconnected.


Practice Compassion

As a parent, know that your teen is probably already feeling badly. Offer to help without causing additional shame or embarrassment.


Provide Guidelines

Help your teen learn from mistakes to make better online decisions in the future. Consider setting up smart online guidelines to follow.

What Teens Can Do

If your teen needs a more immediate plan to get over a bad online decision, Knorr pinpoints the below strategies:

  • Create a New Account: If a mistake feels too unwieldy to resolve quickly, teens may consider shutting down their social media account and creating a new one. Starting fresh is likely to help.
  • Take a Digital Vacation: Encourage your child to go offline, even just for a little while. This can be difficult for teens who rely on social media to connect with friends, but a temporary break is useful while situations are running hot.
  • Apologize: Urge your teen or tween to say, “I’m sorry.”  If possible, the apology should be made in person. If necessary, advise your child to make his or her apology public.

What Parents Can Do

  • Advocate for Your Teen: Speak up on your child’s behalf. If you think talking with the principal or counselor at  your teen’s school will help, don’t hesitate. Perhaps looping in a trusted teacher or coach, or clergy member. Take advantage of the community that already surrounds and supports you.
  • Get Familiar with Helpful Resources: There are numerous resources that help parents navigate this often complicated digital space. One option is Another great resource is the Family Online Safety Institute. You may also want to follow the reporting of CNN digital correspondent Kelly Wallace. Wallace focuses on issues facing parents in this relatively new online age.
  • Help Your Child Recognize Positive Relationships: Online friendships can be tricky. Relationships on social media may overlap with those in the real world, but sometimes they don’t. In some cases, teens are friendly with friends of friends, some they’ve never met in person. Ensure your child is surrounding him or herself with friends who make them feel good about themselves. Good friends are essential for every individual’s physical and mental well-being.

Once something is posted online, it can be very difficult to make it disappear forever. We must teach this reality to our children. And if teens post words or images they regret, do not embarrass them. Help them. Empower them to move forward and avoid mistakes in the future.

About Allison Gilbert

Allison Gilbert is Senior Writer for the CPTC. Her pieces cover an array of topics including self-care, bullying, grief, and resilience. Allison is author of numerous books and speaks across the country to corporations, non-profits, and community groups. You can learn more by visiting

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