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Teen Internet Safety Tips

With a few Internet safety tips, your online experience can be amazing!

Medically Reviewed by John M Goldenring, MD, JD, MPH on April 01, 2007
From the WebMD Archives

Spend much time surfing the web? If you do, you need to be wary of things that lurk on the dark side of the Internet. Not only are there viruses, hackers and spammers -- online predators and a bunch of evildoers are out there just waiting to pounce on teens in the digital world.

You have probably heard of someone’s computer being hacked, their identity being stolen online, or even having some embarrassing pictures posted online.

“Nah, it can’t happen to me,” you think. Well, if you use the following Internet safety tips, you have a good chance of being right.

1. Keep Your Online Identity Secret

Don’t tell anyone your real name and address or what neighborhood you livein. Here’s the general rule: Don’t give out any information that apredator could possibly use to find you. The Federal Trade Commission says thateven “small clues” like what school you attend or the name of your athleticteam is enough for a predator to figure out your identity. You wouldn’t tellsome 40-year-old man or woman you met at the mall your name and where you live,would you? So why would you tell CoolGuy985 or HotChick16 from the chatroom?

2. Your Username and Password Belong to You … And Only You

Don’t give your username or password to anyone. It's just that simple. Whatif a friend logs on and pretends to be you, and then says something reallyawful and gets you in trouble? Sure, it might seem funny to the “former”friend, but it’s serious and it happens everyday. With your username andpassword, someone can post language that gets you expelled from school, introuble with your parents, or even in trouble with the law. Keep your name andpassword private.

3. The Internet has a Great Memory … So Keep Its Memory of You Clean

Just because the Internet is so massive does not mean that embarrassing orrisqué pictures, rude or mean comments, or illegal activities will disappearforever. Watch what you post about yourself or others -- or allow your friendsto post about you -- because you may have to live with it for a long, longtime.

4. Be Good Online … Just Like You Are Offline

Writing “hate” emails, hacking into other people’s computers, illegallydownloading music or movies and making online threats are just as illegal onthe Internet as they are in the real world. You cannot hide behind a screenname and get away with it. Watch what you write -- because someone else iswatching what you write!

5. Be Extremely Careful about Meeting Someone in Person

The FBI gives an all-out blanket warning: “Never meet anyone in person thatyou meet online.” That said, many teens do make good friends online. You justhave to be super-cautious and make sure other people you know and trust alsoknow this “new” online person.

If you do decide to meet the new person, bring your parents with you. All ofyou meet together in a public area like a mall where there are tons of peoplearound. Ask that the person’s parents come, too. If the situation feels creepy,it probably is creepy! Just like in the real world, trust your gutinstincts -- and walk away.

6. Your Parents Are Ultimately Responsible for Minors Online

Even if your parents don’t know much about the Internet, tell them whattypes of web sites you go to. They will probably be interested and impressedwith your Internet skills. They may also help you avoid potential problems if aweb site or new "friend" looks sketchy.

Some Extra Words of Caution

Almost Everything on the Internet Is Traceable

Every search, web site visit, online posting and email is registered orrecorded somewhere on the Internet. Once you send something out on theInternet, it's almost impossible to take it back. You have to be careful --not impulsive -- when you write email or go to chat rooms.

People Live in "Fantasyland" Online

Even though someone writes, “Hi, I’m a really cool 15-year-old guy from NewYork City,” in reality that guy may be a 60-year-old man or even your next-doorneighbor. Use scrutiny and caution. 

Your Information Can Be Sold to Others

Every web site has this thing called a “privacy policy.” It will tell youhow that web site uses all the personal information about you, like your name.In some cases, though, when you’re not looking, some web sites ignore theirprivacy policy and sell your email address to other companies. When you openyour email one day, you might have 150 spam emails in your inbox as a result.If a web site is asking for too much information about you, take control andleave the site. (Again, would you give this information to some older strangerat the mall? Probably not.)

What about Nude Photos and Sex Sites?

You’ve probably come across some explicit sexual material on the Internet.That’s because pornography is big business on the web. If you come across apornography site or get pornographic email, take control: Leave the site ordelete the email. 

Remember, pornography is not real life. It's made up -- the men and womenare acting. In real life, real people don't act that way with each other. Thereare much better ways to learn about real sex if you're curious -- like WebMD’sTeen HealthChannel.           

Is It Safe to Post Photos of Myself on the Internet?

No way! In terms of bad ideas, this one tops the chart! John Shehan from theNational Center for Missing and Exploited Children based in Alexandria,Virginia, says that posting or emailing sexual pictures of yourself can beembarrassing -- and dangerous. “Teens quickly learn the hard way that imagesare forever memorialized online, and they are almost impossible to delete,”Shehan says.

If someone asks you to send them sexual pictures, be very suspicious --and don't do it. Alert your parents. Shehan says that teens who send outone sexual picture can sometimes be blackmailed to send more, when the sexualpredator threatens to post the first picture online for millions to see -- orshow it to your family or friends.

How Do I Report Creepy or Illegal Things Online?

While most Internet activity is legal, occasionally you might come acrosssomething that just seems wrong, creepy or even scares you. The first thing todo is tell your parents -- just like you’d do if a creep talked dirty to you atthe movies. Your parents can support you and help you make the right decisionsabout what to do next. If you decide to report the suspicious activity orperson, there are two web sites you can go to:

  1. For computer hacking, online stealing, or similar suspicious or illegalactivity, go to www.ic3.gov. Follow theinstructions for how to report what you saw.
  2. For any suspicious activity involving sexual messages, someone sending younude photos or asking you to send nude photos, someone trying to get you to dosexual things, or any other sexually related incident, go to www.cybertipline.com.

Admittedly, the Internet is completely awesome. It lets you discover anincredible new world and meet some great new friends in the next town or acrossthe globe. Just use it with caution, since the trail you leave behind may comeback to haunt you -- and your family and friends -- one day.

Show Sources

SOURCES: Federal Trade Commission: “Social Networking Sites: Safety Tips for Teens.”John Shehan, CyberTipline program manager, National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, Alexandria, VA. Azriel, J. Communication Law and Policy, 2005; vol 10: pp 477-49. Mitchell, K et al. Youth & Society, 2003; vol 34(3): pp 330-58.

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