How to stay safe

When it comes to your life and the Internet, do you think you know it all? The World Wide Web (www) can be a wonderful tool to access endless information or to email friends and family across the world. The Internet is a wonderful resource. Students can use it to research school projects, communicate with friends and other relatives, and play interactive games. Any child who is old enough to punch in a few letters on the keyboard can literally access the world. But that access can also pose hazards to children. Because so many teens are Internet savvy, it is imperative that they also have an understanding of the dangers that exist online and how to deal with them. However, there are some individuals who use the Internet as a tool to cause harm and to commit criminal acts. It is important for users to protect themselves by learning the possible dangers. Generally speaking, the Internet is a pretty safe place, but it can become dangerous if you are not careful, just like there are dangers to anything you do in real life if you are not careful enough.

Did you know...?

… that by posting your full name, your school, your phone number, your home address, a picture, you make it possible for normal people and for criminals to find you if they want to? Wake up! Unless you think it’s cool to put your phone number on a public wall, don’t put it online either.

…that the information you post online is available for everyone to see? Your mom, your dad, your principal, your future employer, current boyfriend, future girlfriend ... anyone! Think before you post!

that the material you post online exists online forever? Once you hit ‘send’, other people can find and use that information, sometimes years later. Do you want your picture or personal information to keep you out of a good college, or out of a job? What will your future college principal or employers find when they Google you?

…that when you put something down in writing on a blog (even if it is your own), even as a joke, the police or school authorities may decide it is no joke and take action against you? What you do online can come back to bite you later. Your ‘private thoughts’ are no longer private after you post them. And being young will not protect you.

Some people think that they can say and do what they like online; however this is not true. Whenever you use the internet you leave tracks, like digital footprints. These can be used to pin down what you’ve been doing, which sites you look at, who you chat to and even where you log on from. Although you may feel that you’re anonymous when you’re on the internet, it’s simply not true.

  • Every website keeps a record of the computers that look at it.
  • Every email you send passes through other people’s computers.
  • There are even special programmes to monitor what you’re doing
  • Some computers have spy-ware that tracks everything you type.
  • Schools and parents might be checking on your internet use.

At the least level, every internet-connected computer is identified by a number, called an IP address (Internet Protocol). Whenever you connect to another computer, it has to know your IP address and might keep a record of it. If that address can be linked to your computer, it’s pretty obvious which websites you’ve been visiting and what applications you are using. Don’t assume that you are anonymous online; if you behave badly or break the law it can be traced back to you.

Do you know... ?

what a friend is? Friends are people we know in real life, not people we know only online. You don’t tell personal things to just anyone at school or on the street. Don’t tell personal things to just anyone online either.

…those adults who want to make friends with children online are probably sick people or criminals? Adults who have no friends, no social group, and no life go online and try to make friends with kids. Stay away from them.

…that there is no such thing as ‘free stuff’? When anyone asks you for your information (address, phone, e-mail) and offers to send you something for free, it’s probably a trick. They don’t want to give you stuff, they want your information.

whom you can go to when required help? Have an adult you trust (parent, teacher, neighbour) that you can talk to if something happens online that makes you feel uncomfortable. Adults are smarter than you think.

that although bullying someone online might make you feel powerful for a little while, it can bounce back at you in ways you didn’t expect? Anyone who says mean things about other people is really showing how they feel about themselves. Online bullying is a sure way to lose your friends and it’ll make it really hard to get new ones.

 …that a picture is worth a thousand words? What do the pictures you post online say about you? Photographs are like advertisements. Are you valuable and interesting, or are you cheap and distasteful? Distasteful pictures attract distasteful people.

…that it is dangerous to communicate online with people who say sexual things to you?

If you are using a public computer (at a cyber café for example): 

  • Do not leave passwords entered in the password field on web sites. It is easy for someone to go back and retrieve passwords to accounts and e-mail addresses this way.
  • Do not apply for anything online unless you ABSOLUTELY have to.
  • When you're done using the computer, go back and delete the "History." Without the history, it is impossible for the next user to know what sites you've visited - sites that may contain personal info.

A few suggestions:

Don’t respond to inappropriate messages or emails . Some people send inappropriate messages just to see if you will respond. If you do, you are simply encouraging them to send more inappropriate material to you. Don’t respond to inappropriate messages. Instead, talk to your parents about how to report them to the right place.

Be careful of personal questions from strangers . People you don’t know who ask personal questions are often up to no good. Don’t continue communicating with strangers who ask you personal questions. Talk to your parents about how to block them from communicating with you and report them to the right place.

Don’t use adult sites . There are some websites that youngsters just should not use. Don’t use websites that contain adult content. No matter how much you think you know about the Internet, there are some people, places and information you just aren’t ready to deal with. Enjoy websites that are designed for people your own age.

Inappropriate information can distort the normal personality development process, and supply half-truths about your sexuality, sense of self, and body, and that can leave you confused, changed, and in extreme cases (where viewing inappropriate material becomes an addiction) damaged. Even if you don’t go looking for it, chances are that you will be exposed to it while you are surfing the Net. Here are a few suggestions to minimize the chances of being exposed to unwanted material:

  • First of all, do not try typing in web addresses. This will almost always direct you to pornography or other inappropriate sites. It is very common for pornographic sites to use addresses close to popular ones, or words that are frequently used. Instead – type in key words into a search engine (Google, Yahoo, msn, etc.) and let that direct you.
  • There are a number of so-called child safe search engines available on the web. These sites tend to be directories of known safe sites that are reviewed by individuals. Using these directories (e.g. Yahooligans, Kids Click, and Ask Jeeves for Kids), children can learn to use search strategies without accidentally stumbling into a dangerous site. ( And while you may be enjoying being a teenager – please remember, by law, till you become an adult, you are a child .)
  • There are many Internet filters available on the market. They tend to look for identified objectionable sites and filter for inappropriate words. They will not filter out 100% of sites, but still a large number will get blocked.
  • Often, you will find the following note, or something similar sent to you by instant message or email, "Our administration has determined problems with your account. Please verify your user name and password immediately or your account will be discontinued." The notice looks official, and it is tempting to reply with the information requested. Beware - replying gives someone else your password, which along with your user name allows them to use your account. Legitimate online services and Internet Service Providers (ISP) never request your password like this.

It is understandable that you are at an age where you are curious about what is happening to you and what adults say you cannot experiment with. While curiosity is healthy, it is useful for you to get information from avenues that are safe and correct. What adult sites do is show material in a way that is exaggerated and sometimes scary. These publications are not meant to inform – they only intend to excite. Find out where you can get material that is appropriate and will answer your questions and curiosity. And most importantly talk to adults you trust in order to clear your doubts.