Chrissy M asks: How can a teenager protect himself/herself in cyberspace?
Hi Chrissy M –
This is a great question. Online safety is such a huge issue today, and there are a number of differences between what parents can do for their children and what teenagers can do for themselves. The biggest difference, of course, is that as a teenager, you need to make more decisions. While a supervising parent can keep a child from going to certain sites or chatting with certain people or posting certain information – as a teenager you need to make those decisions yourself. And that’s often very difficult (especially with peer pressure coming at you from every direction!).
I looked around for some good information on this issue, and the best place I found was http://www.safeteens.com/teen-safety-on-info-highway/ It really spells a lot out well. So my answer will be a quick summary, but for more detail, go to that site.
The best and worst thing about the Internet is that anything and everything can get put up there. Information is available to the public that would have been very difficult to find before, entertainment is so easily accessible, and you can communicate with your friends SO much more easily. At the same time, MISinformation is all over the place, material that ranges from age-inappropriate to appallingly horrible is accessible to anyone and everyone… and CREEPS can communicate with you just as easily as your friends can!
So here are my simple words of advice:
1) If you find information online that sounds at all dubious, check it out. One of the best sites for that is www.snopes.com. If something has gone “viral,” meaning it’s been sent around the web a lot, it will likely be on there, having been judged for its accuracy.
2) Be good to your own self, as far as what you look at. Teenagers are curious, and are bound to check out images that society deems inappropriate, and nothing can stop you from doing that. But how do those images make you feel? Do you feel creepy, frightened, or sad by looking at them? If so, stop! Pornographers aren’t very interested in self-restraint, and will gladly post anything that they think anyone wants to see, no matter how brutal. And of course it doesn’t even stop there; as we know, terrorists have posted pictures of their murder victims, or even torture and murder itself, online! So it’s up to you to take care of yourself.
3) Beware of Bullies! If a Facebook friend of yours starts posting mean awful things about kids they know, report them. Report it to school, to those kids, to parents. Bullying has always been cruel and harmful; Cyberbullying has resulted in suicides! And if reporting them isn’t enough, de-Friend them. They’ll still be able to spread their garbage around, but at least you’ll be safe from it.
4) Don’t put any information online that will help unwanted strangers find or meet you. Don’t post your age, your birthdate, your hometown, any of that. If you’re on Facebook or something like that, you might even want to use a fake name that only your friends know. And NEVER post your address or phone number. Remember, the vast majority of people are nice and good, but there are creepy folk out there who want to meet you for creepy reasons. They will gladly lie about themselves to achieve this. (Note: This is why I insist that you invent a Pack Name when you join my Pack. I don’t want any identifying information about my friends going online!)
5) Biggest of All: Never ever EVER meet someone in person alone who you’ve only met online. If they’re legitimate, they’ll have no trouble meeting you with your parents or friends, in a public open place. There’s nothing wrong with having a “pen pal” online (hey after all, we’re talking, right?!), but if they want to meet with you, there’s a reason why. And that reason might be innocent and sweet or… creepy.
6) And last but not least, although it’s likely the last thing you want to hear… use your parents! Yes I know, they’re old and don’t understand anything and they never were on Facebook when they were young, and seem like they never were young at all anyway. But the truth is they probably care about you more than anyone else ever has, and will do anything they can to protect you. So ask them for help. If you have any questions about what to do, they will most likely have some good thoughts, or at least be able to help you find the answers somewhere else.
Now about that last rule: is it possible your parents might be too overprotective, and keep you from doing something fun and exciting? Sure. Absolutely. It is possible they might make a mistake, and err on the side of your safety instead of your fun. And you know what? That’s why we love them!
Every day, Handsome keeps me locked up inside our yard. I would LOVE to go out and run around and chase animals back and forth across the street. And 99 times out of a hundred, I wouldn’t get hit by a car. That’s what parents do – they annoy the daylights out of their teens by keeping them from those 99 fun times. But, then again – there’s that hundredth time – Handsome also does keep me from being hit by that car, and injured for life, or killed.
And your annoying, overprotective parents might also protect you from being hurt, and devastated, by stupid or mean or horrific things that happen online. So yeah, do all these other things to protect yourself. But don’t forget that #6 as well. Crazy as it seems, it might be the best idea of all.