THE STRUGGLE IS REAL

Back then, perhaps ten years ago, there used to be an internet acronym, “AFK” which meant “Away From Keyboard”.

Now… well, let’s just say we spend more of our time on our screens (and keyboards) than away from them! Like it or not, our online life is often a huge part of our “real” life.

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LEAVE ME ALONE

No one’s a fan of Mom and Dad poking their noses into our private lives. It’s ironic that we’re often more open to strangers online than we are to our own family! There’s nothing wrong with that, really.

Until there is.

Just as you sometimes use a screen name that isn’t your own (bravo, btw – but more on this later) so people won’t make the connection that you’re a nice straight-A student by day and a Troll Berserker by night, people with not-so-nice intentions may be posing as a friendly normal teen who just wants to be your best buddy (or more).

WHAT COULD GO WRONG?

Maybe we don’t even need to ask. You’ve probably experienced (or have friends or friends of friends who have experienced) some version of:

  • Posting an embarrassing photo set to public that went (exponentially embarrassingly) viral
  • Viewing an awful video that you wish you never laid eyes on
  • Having your account hacked and having someone pretend they were you
  • Getting bullied and threatened by people you’ve never even met
  • Getting stalked by someone who seems to know where you are all the time
  • Becoming online friends with someone who turns out to be a creepy pervert

Just as real life can be full of unexpected hazards, our online lives can also be quite complicated. You might be surprised that the same precautions you take offline can be useful online.

SAFETY 101

It all begins with privacy.

We don’t mean locking up all your accounts and hiding from the online world forever (that’s paranoia). Privacy is practicing healthy boundaries with what you show to different people online.

How? Three simple steps:

1. Review your different accounts to check what’s visible to the public, to “just acquaintances”, to friends and to family. For example:

but01but02 but03but04but05but06but07

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2. Ask yourself:

  • Is this something I would show to the public in real life?
  • Would a real-life acquaintance know this about me?
  • Would I let my real-life friends know this about me?
  • Would tell this to my family?
  • Would I be safe in real life if all these different people knew this about me?
    • – For example, if your full real name and birthdate were public, some people may use those as a starting point to steal your identity since those are basic requirements in government records.
    • – If your location were public, it would be easy for people to know where you are and spot your patterns of movement. Be more unpredictable.

3. If you answered “no” to any of these questions, it’s time to tighten your privacy levels. Change it to the next level and ask the question again, all the way until you answer “yes” to all.

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A WORD ON SECURITY

It might be fun to prank a friend by posting a hilarious message using their SnapChat, but it’s no fun if someone takes control of your account and people seriously think it’s you.

So, get cracking on your security:

  • Never, ever give your password to anyone. If you suspect someone has gotten ahold of your login details, change your password immediately.
  • Use a combination of numbers, letters (upper and lowercase), and characters that are difficult to guess but easy for you to remember.
  • Always have a backup secret email which can be notified about unusual activity in your usual email and prompted for password resets. (Don’t use this backup to sign up on websites you use.)
  • Don’t accept friend requests from people you don’t know in real life; some accounts are used to phish for information that will make hacking into your account (and impersonating you) easier.
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LOOKING OUT FOR FRIENDS

If you’re worried about friends getting into trouble online, you can help them in simple but effective ways:

  • Ask permission. Unless you have their okay, don’t give anyone their email address, phone number or location, tag them in photos. In the same way you keep your info private, respect their privacy.
  • Support them. If a friend is bullied online, let them know you’re there for them. IMPORTANT: Posting your support online means there’s always a risk you may be dragged into trouble as well, so make sure you keep safe too.
  • Ask for help. If you feel your friend’s safety or life is in danger, ask an adult or a person in authority to step in and help, with your friend’s permission.
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SOMETHING’S WRONG. WHAT DO I DO?