Today’s post is for kids, especially those who are wishing to chat with others online.
You see, it’s a lot of fun to talk with other kids over the Internet, but too many times the people you meet online aren’t who they say they are.
They may want to talk you into doing things that aren’t nice or right and that’s not cool. I realize I’m an adult, but I still know a thing or two about what is kosher and what isn’t. So with that in mind, I hope you’ll read these tips for safe social networking and share them with your friends. I also hope you’ll talk about them with your parents, especially if any of these situations sound a little too familiar. If you have any questions, and you’re afraid to ask your parents, you can ask them in the comments or reach out to me privately using the email address on my “About” page. However, I really want you to be able to reach out to your parents if you have a problem with someone you met online.
Some of these tips are a bit frank. I’m going to do my best not to be harsh, but I do want to be honest about the types of people you encounter online. There are plenty of kids just like you who want to talk to other kids from around the world. But there are also plenty of perverts or sickos who want to do bad things to you or have you make bad choices. Hopefully this list will give you a good idea of what to look for – and what to look out for so you can make good choices when socializing online.
Social Networking Tips for Kids
1. People who ask you to keep secrets are almost always up to no good
Make no mistake, anyone who is asking you to do something, but doesn’t want you to tell your parents isn’t looking out for your best interests. Anyone who is asking you to do something your parents shouldn’t find out about or wouldn’t like isn’t a good friend at all. Why would someone who cares about you want you to get in trouble, right? This isn’t the same as your dad asking you to keep your mom’s birthday gift a secret. If someone asks you to do something, or tells you something but doesn’t want you to let your parents know, ask yourself why. Yeah, we all like our privacy, but why would someone go to the actual trouble of making sure you won’t tell anyone if it’s not something bad? If someone is asking you not to tell your folks, it’s almost a sure bet you should do the opposite and tell them right away.
2. People will tell you what you want to hear because they want you to trust them, not because they think it’s true
The people who want to do bad things know just how to make you feel good. Perverts, druggies and other unsavory types troll the online social networks looking for kids who are shy and insecure. They know that if they can get these types of kids to feel good about themselves, then they’ll trust them more. So they might tell girls they’re pretty and boys they’re so smart. They’ll agree with you that your parents don’t understand you or that the popular kids in school are really mean. As you begin to start trusting them, they may start talking about tougher things, like sex or stealing money from your parents. It feels really good to hear really good stuff about you, but don’t fall for lines. Ask yourself why this total stranger is saying all this stuff to you and not chatting about music and clothes like everyone else.
3. Your parents understand a lot more than you think they do, and no one online should convince you otherwise
Look, parents aren’t always hip. It’s part of our charm really. We’re not kids and we shouldn’t act like kids. Still, that doesn’t mean we haven’t been around the block a couple of times. We know what’s cool and uncool – and chances are we experimented with some things that might surprise you. We also know what it’s like to have unhip parents because we had them too. Here’s the thing though, we really do understand a lot of what you’re going through. That doesn’t mean we’re going to allow you to get away with stuff, but we do understand. There was a time when we wanted to stay up later, stay out later, dress in cool clothes, spend our own money in a matter that we see fit, cut school, listen to loud music, and even date when we were too young. We’ve been there and done that and just because we’re older, doesn’t mean we don’t get it. So if someone tells you they understand you better than we do, simply to get you to do stuff we don’t want you doing, well, they’re wrong. A total stranger doesn’t know you better than your parents. And anyone who cares, wouldn’t tell you to do something you shouldn’t.
4. Private details are private
You’ve been talking to your online friends for months, why not give out phone numbers and addresses? Truthfully, it may be because you don’t know who you’re talking to at all. There have been so many cases of grown men pretending to be teens or kids -and then something bad happens. Sometimes kids are raped or killed, kidnapped, or stalked. And guess what? You can say it won’t happen to you, but everyone who has ever been a victim probably said that exact same thing. Ask your parents before giving out your details or sharing your picture. If someone wants you to meet them, always tell your parents. If you’re sure it’s another kid who wants to meet, bring a parent with you. Again, you may think it’s unhip, but your parents need to know who you’re with just in case. And, again, any stranger who wants you to meet and insists you don’t bring a parent has something to hide.
5. If you have to hide it, you’re probably doing something you’re not supposed to
You know why your parents don’t trust you? It’s because you’re giving them a reason not to be trusted. You’re hiding your computer screen every time they come in the room – and don’t think they don’t notice. If you backspace, bring up another window, hunch over your screen or make sure your back and computer screen are turned away from your parents they’re going to wonder why. The best way to have your parents trust you is to make smart choices. If you’re lying to them, hiding things from them, and doing stuff you’re not supposed to, you’re not giving them a reason to trust you. It has nothing to do with understanding you at all, it has to do with you acting in a responsible manner.
6. Make sure your parents know who you’re talking to online
Even if you’re talking with someone your parents don’t know you still have to tell them, and I’ll tell you why…because if anything happens to you, you’re going to want your parents to be able to find you and they won’t be able to do that if you’re keeping secrets from them about who you’re talking to. Also, if someone doesn’t want your parents to know about them, you’re going to have to ask yourself why. I mean, someone who is your friend and making good choices with you won’t mind your parents knowing who he or she is, right? It’s the people with something to hide who don’t want your folks to know who they are.
7. Make sure your social networks are safe
Facebook, and Twitter are fun, but are they safe? And what about your friends at these places? Do you really know, I mean really know thousands of people? If you’re going to join a network online make sure it’s trusted,your parents can help you find some good ones (and I’ll be posting a list here). Make sure only people you know and trust implicitly can have access to your updates. Don’t make friends with people you don’t know, even if they say they know your friends. If a stranger does try to befriend you, tell your parents. Make sure your parents know which networks you’re on and they have your passwords. You may resent it, but it’s your parents job to keep you safe, so knowing what you’re doing online is just your parents doing their jobs.
8. Don’t post anything online you wouldn’t expect the whole world to see
Don’t count on a social network to ensure your privacy. Every single thing you put online has the potential to make it to the outside world. If you’re sending sexy pictures to a boy you like, he may just share them. You might not think he will because he likes or loves you (or says he does) but there’s a good chance he’s showing his friends. Also? If you have a fight, the first thing he may do is make your pictures public. You might say he’s not like that, but really, that’s what a lot of guys do. Guys, you have to be careful what you’re putting online too. Cursing, drinking, and those pictures of you mooning the camera aren’t going to stay on Facebook, if you know what I mean. One day someone will get pissed off at you and will start spreading it all around. Not only will this prove embarrassing to you and your family, but one day you’ll want to go to college or get a good job. And yes, they will Google you. Ask me how I know.
9. Don’t let anyone guilt you into anything
Good for you for making good choices, now you have to stick to them. You see, sometimes the people online (especially the ones who aren’t who they say they are) will make you feel bad for not doing what they want you to do. They’ll tell you you’re not a true friend or that they’ll never speak to you again. If that’s the case, good riddance. The people who care about you don’t want you to get in trouble and don’t want you to keep secrets…and they certainly don’t want you to do stuff you shouldn’t. So if anyone makes you feel bad about not doing what they want you to do, move on, they’re not your friends.
10. Always check with your parents before sending anyone anything – or giving out your address to receive “gifts” in return
You might be wondering how I know a lot of this stuff. It’s because I used to moderate a community for “tweens.” One of the “kids” who was a part of that community actually turned out to be an adult who was caught because he was asking girls to send him their underwear. It may sound kind of stupid, but the people who we talked about earlier, the ones who say and do things to make you trust them, sometimes ask for things like underwear, nude or semi nude photos, or a lock of your hair. I’m serious. Sometimes they want to send things to you in return, things they don’t want your parents to know about like dirty pictures or videos. Always, always, always, ask before sending anything to a stranger, even if that stranger is someone you’ve been talking to online for months, and always ask your parents permission before giving out an address. And don’t be afraid to ask the hard questions, like why would another kid (or even a grownup) want your underwear?
11. You should always report abuse or bullying – even if it isn’t against you
Hanging out online shouldn’t be stressful. It should be fun and interesting. But just like in the real world, sometimes folks are mean. And just like in the real world, you shouldn’t allow yourself or your friends to be bullied. Always report abuse to the people in charge of the social network. They’ll respect your privacy and won’t use your name so you don’t have to worry about retaliation. You should also let your parents know when someone is bullying you – even when people tell you not to tell your parents. No matter how dire the situation seems, your parents will know how to help you.
12. Don’t tell anyone what you’re wearing
Kids online don’t want to know what you’re wearing. Seriously. The only people who want to know what you’re wearing are usually perverts. I talk to people online all day and no one ever asks me what I have on. If a total stranger or new friend asks you what you’re wearing, get out of the conversation fast. It usually means they want to talk about sex.
13. Passwords aren’t for sharing
The only people who should have access to your passwords are you and your parents. Never give your passwords to your friends because they can abuse it or give it out, even if they say they won’t. And don’t, under any circumstance, ever, give a password to someone you met online and don’t know. I know you don’t want to hear it but you simply can’t trust everyone, even the people who claim they’re your good friends. Friends fight and turn against each other. Ask me how I know.
14. Ask permission before spending money
If someone wants you to buy something, ask your parents first. Don’t use your parent’s credit cards without permission because they’ll find out when they get the statement and you’ll be in a lot of trouble. If it’s something you really want, ask your parents and let them determine if you should have it. If it’s something someone else wants you to buy either for you or for them, ask yourself why they’re so insistent that you spend your parent’s money or that you have this thing you weren’t going to buy in the first place.
15. Don’t make friends with grownups
I know. You’re supposed to trust grownups, right? Well, if a grownup is reaching out to talk to you every day while you’re online, ask yourself two questions.
1. Why is this grownup person hanging out in a kids’ community?
2. Why is this grownup wanting to have a conversation with a kid every day?
How many adults go to the playground or mall to seek out kids to talk to every day? Not many, right? How many grownups have kid friends who they call every day? None, right? And those who do are considered wierdos, right? The same rule applies online. If a grownup is looking to be your friend, you’ll have to wonder why he doesn’t go to a place where he can make friends his own age. This is also the reason why many grownups pretend to be kids online, which is why you need to look out for rules 1 – 14 above.
16. Trust your instincts
Go with your gut. If something doesn’t seem right, it probably isn’t. If you don’t feel right about what someone is asking you to do, walk away. If someone doesn’t seem like a good person, tell your parents. Never brush aside an uncomfortable thought or idea just because you want to trust someone. It’s better to be wrong about someone than to get into a bad situation.
Look, we get that you want to be able to make your own friends and have a certain amount of privacy. We want you to have that too. However, we worry about the choices you make. It isn’t even that we don’t trust you – it’s more that we don’t trust everyone else. We can’t be everywhere to protect you and we don’t want to push you away by being over protective. That’s why we need you to make good choices. All the situations I mentioned above happen more often than you think. If you practice good, responsible online socializing you’ll have fun and your parents will see you as someone who is responsible and makes good choices. Just remember to keep private details private, don’t be so trusting of everyone you meet online, and tell your parents if things get a little weird.