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Listen Up, Mom and Dad: Teens’ Advice on Internet Safety

This blog was reposted with permission from the author. It first appeared on PennLive.com. 

It’s Internet o’clock. Do you know where your children are? 

Are they lost down some dark alley in Snapchat? Being lured to danger by bad guys on the corner of Twitter and Vine? 

We parents are worriers. And when it comes to the cyber world, there’s a lot to worry about. 

We read articles like “How One Prom Party Photo Sabotaged My Child’s Harvard Scholarship” and “10 Ways School Bullies Use Smartphones To Steal Your Kid’s Lunch.” And we worry. 

We look for red flags and warning signs. And we worry. We ask our children well-meaning questions: Are you happy? Are you safe? Is everyone on the Internet playing nice with you? 

We parents are worriers. And when it comes to the cyber world, there’s a lot to worry about. Before our kids can even reply, we worry about the answers. 

While writing last week’s column about Facebook and Snapchat, I quizzed my friends' teens on their Internet safety know-how. The kids were patient with my questions. When answering, they were thoughtful and articulate. 

This time, instead of worrying, I shut up and listened. 

“Relax,” the kids said. “We’ve been listening, too.” 

What kinds of problems or dangers does the Internet present for kids? 

D., 14 : If you put your personal information out there, it leaves a lot of room for people to obtain information about you and stalk you. 

O., 12: People can hack your account and cause drama in your personal life. Don’t post personal information. Have strong passwords to prevent hacking. 

A., 14: People can swipe your posts and pictures and use them without your permission. 

K., 16: Your internet image can become your public image. If there is anything that you wouldn’t want just anyone to know, don’t put it online. 

L., 16: Colleges and employers can look at your Facebook page if it’s not private. 

Victoria, 14: There are lots of bait things, like videos that look harmless but are really bad, or websites that trick you. 

What kinds of rules do you have for yourself for staying safe online? 

D., 14: I don't put personal information out there. 

Emily, 14: It's important not to friend anyone that you don't know in real life. 

Alissa, 14: Before I sign up for something, I check with my parents to make sure it's safe.

John, 16: I make sure my mom follows me on Twitter and is my friend on Facebook because if I don't want her to see what I have to say then it’s not worth saying. 

F., 15: Don’t be stupid. 

If someone bullies you online, how do you handle it? 

D., 14: I delete them. If that doesn't work, I would block them or report them. I would delete my account if it still continued. 

Victoria, 14: Usually, replying back adds to the problem. Ignore that person, and then block them if possible. If you ignore them, chances are they'll leave you alone. If it persists and it's on a website, I would contact the moderator or owner of the site. 

K. 16: If I can’t handle it myself, I may talk to my friends first for input. If it’s big, I go straight to my parent. 

Gavi, 16: I have been a target of cyberbullying by someone in my school. I addressed this to the principal as well as the dean of students. 

What is your advice to kids who are being bullied or harassed online? 

John, 16: Tell your parents or a school counselor. 

A., 14: Try to put up a wall against what they say; if they aren’t someone you care about, it shouldn’t matter. 

L., 15: It’s not your fault (for being bullied)and you shouldn’t feel bad. But if you do feel bad, to talk to someone. Block the people that are talking about you. 

Emily, 14: I know it sounds cliche, but you really should tell your parents, or at least some adult. 

How can kids decrease their chances of being harassed online? 

Alissa, 14: Limit the amount of information you give out. Never give a person your e-mail or number unless you know them well. 

A., 14: Don’t post bad stuff about other people. Try to be nice to everyone inside social media and the real world. 

L, 15: As soon as someone starts being mean, cut off contact with them. 

Victoria, 15: Be polite and remember that face-to-face talking has body language and facial expressions which add to the conversation, but messaging is just words on a screen. Joking around can be taken the wrong way. Use these little faces, like :-), so that the other person understands how you're feeling. 

Maybe some teens are hot rodding on the Internet. But, not all of them. After hearing these very sensible answers, maybe I'll worry a little less. 

Cover image from Wikimedia Commons.