We know that the Internet isn’t a scary place. Come on, it’s where we found those amazing pictures.
It is important to remember that interacting with people online can get complicated. Relationships and friendships can be confusing, and when you’re talking to someone online, it can be especially hard to figure out what the other person is actually thinking.
Unfortunately, there’s no app that sends you every time a conversation is getting kind of risky. But by knowing some warning signs, safety rules of thumb, and what to do if you do feel uncomfortable, you can help protect yourself and your friends.
ONLINE SAFETY TIPS
1. DON’T TRUST THE DEFAULT PRIVACY SETTINGS.
Think of it this way: When you’re hanging out online it’s like being in your own room. But if you want privacy in your room, you can shut your door. Unfortunately, most websites, social media apps, or gaming devices come to you with the door wide open so that anybody, even creeps, can chat with you. (Worst of all, sometimes it’s almost impossible to tell that they’re creeps.) But you can take steps to help keep them out. Most of these websites, apps, and games have settings that allow you to shut the door. You just need to change your privacy settings so that only your real friends can connect with you. If you need help learning how to do this, here’s a page with quick links to the privacy settings pages for common apps, websites, and gaming devices.
2. HAVE AN EXIT PLAN
If someone is bugging you or talking to you in a way you don’t like, you can unfriend or block them, and you shouldn’t hesitate to! (Report them through the app, too, if something is getting really sketchy). If you’re talking to or being followed by people who aren’t your close friends, avoid posting things that reveal how to find you in real life (like the name of your school, where your soccer team practices, etc). It could also be smart to make sure that your user name or handle is different from your real name, that way if you get into a conversation that’s making you uncomfortable you can exit it without the fear of someone tracking you down.
3. BE A TINY BIT PARANOID.
If you send or post a picture, you can’t always control how it’s being seen—or how it’s being shared by others. If you feel like there’s any chance that the picture could get into the wrong hands, don’t risk it, don’t share or post it.
4. STAY IN SAFE ONLINE PLACES.
Just as you wouldn’t walk down dark alleys alone at night, you should avoid creepy places online and creepy apps. You could stumble on photos or videos you don’t want to see (or maybe are even illegal!), or end up connecting with people who are looking to take advantage of you. Follow your gut, and don’t walk down the alleyways of the Internet.
5. TELL SOMEONE!
If you ever feel uncomfortable or think that something is sketchy, tell an adult you trust! Whether it’s a teacher, a parent or a school counselor. It’s better to talk to someone about it now, even if it means you have to confess something you did or it’s difficult to share. If you wait it could become a bigger problem. If you’d like, you can also talk to someone anonymously by calling the CyberTipline at 1-800-843-5678.
ONLINE STATISTICS AND PRECAUTIONS
69% of teens regularly receive online communications from strangers and don’t tell a parent or caretaker
67% of teenagers say they know how to hide what they do online from their parents
22% of teenage girls say they posted nude or semi-nude photos or videos of themselves online
70% of children 7 to 18 years old have accidently encountered online pornography, often through a web search while doing homework
1 in 5 youth ages 10-17 received a sexual solicitation or were approached online.
If you take a revealing image of yourself:
It could be lost if you misplace or lose your cell phone.
It may be passed around without your permission. For example, an ex-boyfriend or girlfriend may share the sext to get revenge.
People may bully or judge you because of the image. Some teens have been bullied so badly because of sexting images that they have been afraid to go to school.
The person that receives the image might try to use it to blackmail you into sending more images.
You may get in trouble with your school or with law enforcement, especially if there is evidence of blackmail, bullying or forwarding without permission.
Once a sexting picture or video is out of your hands, it is out of your control.
Don’t take images of yourself that you wouldn’t want everyone to see.
Don’t forward anyone else’s picture or video. Imagine how betrayed you’d feel if this happened to you.
Don’t ask or pressure anyone to share an image. Many teens send sexts because they’ve been asked to by a boyfriend, girlfriend or crush. But you shouldn’t ask anyone to take this kind of risk, especially if it’s someone you care about.
Talk to a trusted adult if you receive a revealing image, are being pressured into sending one or have sent one.
If someone online sends you an inappropriate request, here are some steps you can take:
Don’t engage them - Refuse to talk about sex, and don’t accept or share sexual images.
Block them or unfriend them.
Don’t meet them in public.
Tell an adult you trust.