Guest blog by: Neve Spicer (https://wetheparents.org)
For most teens, a significant part of life is lived online. Parents often struggle to keep up with the rapidly changing internet culture. Sometimes they don’t have a clue what social media, instant messaging, live streaming, and online gaming even are, what to speak of how young people use them.
I’m guessing your parents aren’t following you on Snapchat followers and don’t watch your Live.ly streams. This puts you in a unique position of responsibility. As you lead your online life, it’s up to you to be savvy about the risks and to keep your digital footprint ‘clean’ and private.
To help you stay safe and avoid embarrassment online, make sure you’ve got these fundamentals covered:
Sharing Personal Information
Be very precious with your personal information. Protect it like a hawk. For one, identity fraud is a big issue. On top of this, profile pics, bios, and location sharing can reveal your personal information to shady characters. Finally, once you share it, it’s out there and you can’t take it back. Whether it’s an explicit photo or an online rant, these things can lead to embarrassment, bullying, and even damaged career prospects.
Here are some tips for protecting yourself:
- Be wary – Always ask yourself, “should it be shared in public?” Never share personal information like phone number or address with someone you don’t know.
- Profile pics – Never give your physical location away in the background.
- Usernames – Use nicknames, never real ones.
- Privacy settings – Understand them and check them regularly.
- Location settings – Disable them (eg, don’t let the apps or anyone else know where you are).
- Passwords – Make ’em unbreakable, ie, more than 12 characters with capitals, numbers and special characters, and never share them.
- Think before you post – Don’t share anything that you wouldn’t want your mom, teachers, or friends seeing.
- Unknown followers/friends – Don’t accept friend requests from strangers. If they add you, ignore and delete them.
Sexual predators and scammers hide behind fake profile pics and usernames. They may mislead you by presenting themselves as a peer and trying to make friends. Always remember that new online friends may not be who they say they are.
Here are some tips for staying safe:
- Be share aware – Keep your personal information, eg, name, age, gender, phone number, home address, school name, or photographs, private. Don’t share them, especially with strangers or new online friends.
- Be cautious about “new friends” – It is tempting to accept friend requests from strangers. Having lots of online friends or followers can feel great. But remember, even if you’ve been chatting with someone for several weeks, they may not be who they say they are. Only accept online friend requests from real friends.
- Never meet up without a parent present – Never arrange a meeting with an online friend unless you’ve asked a parent to join you.
- Talk about it – It may feel awkward, but try to speak with your parents or another trusted adult if you feel uncomfortable about anything or anyone online.
Bullying is always awful, but when it happens online it can feel impossible to escape.
If you are experiencing it, then here’s an approach to try:
- Talk about it – Reach out to a trusted adult like a parent, teacher, or online support worker.
- Save evidence – Capture screenshots of abusive messages. They can be used to report the cyberbullying to school, authorities, or the social networks and apps.
- Block and delete – Try not to get involved. Don’t reply to nasty messages and instead delete them and immediately block the sender.
- Report it – Use in-app reporting features to flag abusive users.
- Be careful what you share – Don’t share any personal photos or stories which could lead to embarrassment if they fell into a bully’s hands.
Sexting is pretty common these days. It can form part of a healthy relationship, but it can also get pretty complicated and comes with some pretty serious risks.
It is simply wrong if sexting involves pressure or coercion from one side. This is a form of sexual abuse. Don’t tolerate it. If you do say no, any true friend or boyfriend who cares for you and respects you will accept your decision.
Even if you both are into it, remember, once you share something, there’s no taking it back. Relationships can and do turn sour. If you break up and fall out, you probably won’t want your ex in possession of explicit images or videos which they can spread around or blackmail you with. Sadly, it happens.
Before you share anything, ask yourself: How would I feel if Grandma saw this? Could this affect my career prospects if it ever got out?
Digital overload refers to stress induced by excessive media and technology use. It’s just too easy to overdo it with smartphones. This is a problem for adults just as much as teens.
Here are some symptoms to watch out for:
- Tiredness and lack of energy
- Stress and a feeling of being overwhelmed
- Emotional volatility
- Low frustration tolerance
- Loss of focus and ability to concentrate
- Obsession with technology / Little interest in anything unrelated to technology
- Feelings of disconnection from important people
If you are experiencing any of these, then it might be time to consider cutting back – though it’s not always an easy thing to do. Remember, though, if you do try, you are actually part of a progressive new group entrepreneurs, leaders, and celebrities who are shunning social media and instead choosing to forge what they see as more meaningful life experiences.
In many ways, the internet revolution belongs to young people who have embraced it, using the technology in ways that no-one ever predicted. There is no doubt that the internet is exciting, fun, and useful. The challenge is how to enjoy and use it while staying safe, maintaining your integrity, and remaining sane.
You can do it.