Need to Know: Teens and Internet Safety

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by Barbara J. Feldman on June 29, 2007

The Internet is the perfect tool for teenagers. It can be a creative form of self-expression and a gateway to information. It provides a way to explore the big bad world without having to leave the comforts of home. It is a way to make friends. It is a way to make money. However, as the teenagers will learn as they move through life, nothing is ever as good as it seems. Amidst the charms of the Internet are also scary threats to personal safety. What teens need to now about Internet safety is where the danger zones are and how to avoid the particular threats of each zone.

Danger Zone #1—The blog or MySpace type account
. Sure it’s fun to post personal information on the web but there are a few rules that teens need to follow to protect themselves when blogging.
• The first rule is to never post something you wouldn’t want your parents, grandparents or future employers to see. The information you put on the Internet is not personal, it is public and anyone can read it. Before posting consider how you would feel if your grandmother were to read that post.
• The second rule is to limit the amount of personal information that you post. You do not want a stranger to be able to locate you through what you post on your “Space”. If you are posting things like the town you live in, the school you attend, and what you do after school and stranger will be able to find you. With programs like MySpace you can build in features to only let your “friends” see your personal information.
• That leads to the third rule: Know your friends. Only allow comments from friends, and if you receive comments that are mean or harassing, block that person from your blog. If the person makes you feel uncomfortable at all block them, do not engage in any discussion with them. There are predators on the Internet, and one way that they can get you to correspond with them is to bait you by being rude or disagreeable.

Danger Zone #2—The chat room.
Chat rooms are open forums on the Internet where you can discuss any number of things or just “listen in” as others chat. Sometimes the chat is lively and funny, sometimes it is angry, sometimes it is boring. In some chat rooms there are monitors that kick out unruly guests. Most have an option to “flag” or bar a person that is overly obnoxious or offensive. Just like blogs, the chat room can be useful but there are some rules that teens should follow to avoid getting in trouble.
• The first rule is the same as for blogs: don’t say anything in a chat room that you wouldn’t say in front of your Grandma. These are not private forums, they just feel that way.
• Rule number two is stay out of private rooms. There is no need to “chat” in private. If a person is asking you to go private there is a good chance they will engage you in a conversation that they don’t want other people to listen in on. The truth is that predators hangout in chat rooms, especially those that teenagers go to. They are there looking for victims. If you are asked to chat privately, refuse. There is nothing good that a person could say to you in a private room that couldn’t be said in public. If they need to go private they have something to hide.
• Rule number three. Never ever for any reason agree to meet with someone you met in a chat room. If it seems like there are extenuating circumstances and you just have to meet that person, take a parent with you. It is dangerous and irresponsible to meet people that you only know from the Internet.


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