Managing online relationships


It’s inevitable that at some point your teen will experience difficulty with a friendship, whether that’s one that exists purely online or is a blended, online-offline relationship.

Whether it’s a simple falling-out or a complex, messy and emotional break-up, here’s what to consider: from your initial response to helping them move forward positively.

Respect online relationships

All friendships and relationships encounter challenges from time to time. Even if the relationship is online-only, these are real relationships too.

Online-only relationships can be just as important to your teen as the people they see in school or at weekends. Try and respect these friends as such.

Taking positive action

Finding out your teen has blocked or reported someone on Instagram, for example, may be your first sign that something has gone wrong. But it could also be a sign that something has gone right.

The good news is: if they have reported or blocked someone, this is a positive action. It shows their self-awareness and confidence in using the tools available to protect themselves.

It’s natural to want to rush in and find out what has happened, and why. Recognizing your teen has taken positive action and telling them how pleased you are is a better starting point for a conversation than demanding more details.

Side-by-side moments

Finding the right moment to approach a conversation with your teen requires all your parenting skills.

Side-by-side moments are those precious, relaxed times when you have the chance to talk and discuss what’s going on in their lives. It might be while cooking or on a car journey. You’ll know when the time is right to gently raise the subject.

What’s vital is that you wait to let that moment occur naturally. Don’t try to force it – or a conversation could feel more like an interrogation.

Offline repercussions

Things become more complicated if they see the person they want to block or report on Instagram in their day-to-day life – and may worry about repercussions.

If that person becomes aware your teen no longer follows them on Instagram, it may not be too hard to figure out what may have happened.

You could help your teen teen think about how they might handle it if the other person confronted them. You could practice some responses together.

Avoid accusatory language, to stop things getting heated. For example, they could start sentences with “I feel…” rather than “You are…”.

Your teen could also choose to restrict another person on Instagram, rather than block them. This can help them be in control of if and how the other person can interact with them – whether controlling what they see or approving their comments. Read more here.

Remind your teen: it might not always seem like it, but following someone on social media is a personal choice. Who they follow is up to them.

Just listen

Often, the best thing a parent can do is listen. Let them get it out. They may figure what to do next without much input from you – apart from simply being there for them.

Remember: letting them make their own mistakes and overcome their own challenges develops their resilience. This is all part of them testing out the social skills you’ve been teaching them since they were tiny.

You might find you still feel frustrated or upset about what happened to them long after they’ve moved on and forgotten all about it. The key thing is to put them in control, rather than try and take over yourself.

Moving forward

Ask your teen what they want to do next. A helpful question could be: is this a relationship they want to repair?

If not, don’t assume or expect that they take some time away from the online space – or spaces – where the relationship took place. This might feel like they are losing an important social or support network.

However, they may need to think about the consequences of further contact – for example, where they may meet, or if leaving groups will mean they risk losing contact with mutual friends.

They may need to consider that they can’t avoid someone entirely. It’s a difficult situation, especially if emotions are still running high.

But you can still be there for them. You could help them make a plan for what they want to do – and to follow through with it, whether that is cutting off certain friends or social groups. It may be accepting sharing online spaces with the other person – and knowing how they will respond.

Support their wishes to help them feel in charge of what happens next – and help turn a negative into a positive experience for the future.

Need more advice? Read more Family Center articles here.

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