Staying Safe and Avoiding Embarrassment Online

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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.

Online grooming

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.

Cyberbullying

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

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

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
  • Forgetfulness
  • Stress and a feeling of being overwhelmed
  • Emotional volatility
  • Low frustration tolerance
  • Impatience
  • 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.

Wrapping up

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.

 

How to be a Good Friend, to Someone Being Bullied.

I recently read an article in the Huffington Post called “6 reasons why bystandars choose not to intervene to stop bullying.” It was a good article explaining to parents why kids don’t step in. Why they don’t “do the right thing.”   Building off that article, I thought I’d give some additional perspective on the issue and provide information on ways to help them “do the right thing”, to stand up for themselves and others.

1) Research shows that not just kids, but adults too can stand by and watch when something happens to another person. Why? They believe that someone else watching the situation will clearly step in.  It’s a common response. Therefor, what ends up happening is that no one steps in. If you find yourself in a situation of watching someone else being bullied, stand up for them.  Don’t wait for a teacher to show up or someone else to say something. The longer you wait, the harder it gets. End it fast. If your friend is consistently bullied by the same person, create a plan with him/her on how to handle it together the next time it occurs.

2) Fear of retaliation is very real. Kids are not immune to this and neither are adults. If the bully isn’t violent, again stand strong and he/she will see that confidence in you and back down. But if you show nervousness or anxiety, they may decide to bully you too.  You decide. If the bully is violent, you have to tell a teacher or get an adult involved. If you aren’t comfortable telling a teacher face-to-face then leave a note for them.

3) Sometimes your own friend is the bully and it’s tough to address.  Just because someone is your friend, doesn’t mean he/she isn’t someone else’s bully. Remember that. Think about where you ethically draw the line when your friend is bullying someone else. If your friend crosses that bully line, you have a responsibility to say something.  Have a conversation with them privately in an environment where you’re both comfortable so you can help them see or understand how their actions are hurting others. If they’re going to listen to anyone, they will listen to a friend.  Practice what you’d say to your friend before approaching them.

4) Your circle of friends is very important to you when you’re a teen. Sometimes those outside your circle can almost be seen as invisible/as strangers. So when someone outside your clique is being bullied, maybe you see the situation as “none of your business.”  This is an easy defense mechanism to stop you from intervening. We need to teach teens that their school or neighborhood is a whole community and it’s important to look out for your friends as well as those you don’t know in your community.

5) Standing out is the last thing you want to do as a teen. Puberty and hormones take over and you’re always concerned that people are staring at the way you look, the way you dress, etc. Why would anyone willingly have all eyes on them especially in an uncomfortable situation like confronting a bully? It’s completely irrational for a teen brain. In addition, some teens fear that if they are the one to stand up and say something, the other teens will  “possibly” side with the bully. It may seem ridiculous as an adult, but not to a teen. Chances are, if you stand up against the bully, others will stand with you too. (Maybe even thank you.)  Have a few close friends by your side if that helps.

6) Lastly and maybe most importantly, kids aren’t equipped with the right language on how to intervene. They don’t know what to say, how to say it or when to say it.  So, why would they ever intervene?  Schools and parents need to teach anti-bullying language to kids so that bystanders won’t be bystanders any longer. They’d be equipped with the proper language to use if ever in a bullying situation. Practice this language with them over and over. So, instead of standing there in shock , watching the bullying happen and hoping that they aren’t the next victim, they are equipped to step in.

Remember that bullying has many new forms these days. It’s not restricted to the old image of a bully in the cafeteria or on the bus that calls you names to your face.  Now it can be via Facebook, texts, twitter as well as many other forms of social media.  Bullies can hide their identity now, be more sneaky, share damaging photos or bully via indirect ways.  We need to arm our kids with defenses against these forms of attacks as well.