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The Role of Parents on the Internet

With such online perils, tried and true parenting skills, such as letting children know you love them and setting clear, consistent guidelines, may be more important than ever. “Parents should be proactive and fold the Internet into engaged parental activity,” says Anne Collier, executive director of Net Family News Inc. Collier advises parents to talk to their kids regularly about their online activities: what sites they visit most often and if they ever see things that make them uneasy.

Parents can also use the Internet to help kids develop critical thinking skills. “There’s a difference between credible, reliable sources and those that aren’t,” says Magid. You may illustrate this point by sitting down with your child to compare drug information on a variety of sites. If your child pulls up a pro-drug site, have her compare the information to clubdrugs.gov, hosted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and www.drugfree.org, hosted by the Partnership at Drugfreee.org.

'Friend' Your Teen on Social Media

Lack of experience does not have to stop you. If your teen knows more than you do, and most teens do these days, you have a social media expert in your home. Ask him to show you the social networking ropes. If you do not have an account, ask your teen to help you set one up, preferably on the same network he frequents.

According to a recent survey, in households where both kids and parents have a Facebook account, one-third of parents got help from their kids in setting up their accounts. The vast majority (86%) of these parents are Facebook friends with their kids. Being your teen’s friend provides a window into what she and her friends are saying on her profile page. Some parents go a step further and have their teens give them their usernames and passwords. Given that 60% of teens report setting up controls to block certain content from their parent’s view, logging on as your child may give you a more complete picture.

Consider the Pros and Cons of Online Monitoring

Browser histories provide a record of the sites visited on that computer. Whether or not you monitor your teen’s browser history comes down to personal choice. Rodolico, who works with teen addicts, advises parents to “go ahead and monitor, as long as you monitor all of your kids’ activities, not just one.”

Meanwhile, Collier and Magid, who work with parents of non-addicted teens, warn of the pitfalls of online monitoring. “If you find something suspicious, you’ll need to talk to your child about it,” says Collier. If you’ve been monitoring your teen’s online history without her knowing, the discussion will likely go off topic. “It will turn into a conversation about trust, with your child feeling like you don’t trust her, and she can’t trust you.”

All three experts agree that kids can and do find workarounds to their parent’s investigative efforts. For instance, kids can easily clear a browser’s history, or even remove certain sites and leave others. Parents should therefore not get a false sense of security if their monitoring efforts turn up a squeaky clean slate. Monitoring your teen's online activities is a poor substitute for parent-child communications.

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