On-line safety for teens has a lot of different aspects. One of the important points for parents is simply being aware of the various safety dimensions in order to come up with a family “policy” or approach before a situation gets out of hand.
Here are some of the situations that come up in discussions of on-line safety for teens. By knowing about them in advance, you can plan for them.
- Disturbing material.
Disturbing material includes pornography, and it is important to know that pornography can be accessed accidentally. Some perfectly innocent-sounding web addresses are covers for graphic images and invitations. A careful and well-meaning adult or teen may end up calling up or viewing material unintentionally.
But material that is potentially disturbing to teens goes beyond that. Accurate or even award-winning reporting of a disaster or human tragedy can be disturbing as well. Graphic photo features that show people injured, ill, or in pain, can be difficult for teens to handle. And first person accounts of difficult or life – changing events can also raise concerns for teens.
Such information can be called up by teens who are researching a legitimate school assignment, and may not be caught be either any kind of protective shielding in place, or even by a parent sitting beside a teen and working with him or her – until they are deep into the situation.
- Private/Personal material on-line.
How much and what kind of personal material teens are allowed to (and or do) post on-line and in what situation raises question of who has access to identifying and locating information. This can occur in:
- chatting and instant messaging
- e-mail contents or simply posts to forums which do not conceal the e- mail address
- chat rooms
- web sites which belong to or are contributed to by your teen
- on-line dating and personals
- Private/Personal material on a shared computer.
A teen’s need to do Internet research, for example, among other reasons, may lead to parents and teens sharing a computer, so privacy issues in the use of the computer become something to address.
Allowing sites to set cookies gives access to information stored on your computer. If you wish to use legitimate on-line merchants or services – read a newspaper online, or place an order with a well-established book store – you may need to enable cookies. But accepting cookies from a questionable site may lead to problems.
- Bullying and harassment
On either the giving or receiving end, teens need to know about and practice on-line etiquette as well as know when a situation requires intervention or a quick departure.
Sexual predators and merchants of a wide variety of products – from body enhancement to real estate – use on-line means to gain what they want. For predators, the first step is often creating trust in order to gain intimacy with a teen; this process is called grooming. It may involve the predator masquerading in a number of ways, including pretending to be a teen. On-line grooming of teens does not always move towards the predator wanting to meet the teen: there are other kinds of abuse of teens on-line that goes on with no face-to-face meeting involved.
Also, advertising is all over the Internet, as it is on commercial television and in magazines, and merchants of various kinds may solicit sales of whatever the wares are that they are offering.
- Credit Cards
Registering and using a credit card on a site is note difficult, in most cases. Once it’s been registered and used, it’s even easier.
There are many valuable things that can be downloaded from the Internet, including, for example, internet safety pamphlets by reliable sources. Downloads can also include unwanted content and/or can release harmful programs onto your computer.
- Peer-to-Peer or P2P Networks
This is one, and not the only, way that copyrights are infringed by illegal file sharing of applications, music, videos, and other material. This practice is usually called by innocent names, such as “file-swapping.”
Chain letters may be silly, threatening, or encourage teens to do things or behave in ways that aren’t in keeping with their values. There does not seem to be any good or valid reason to send on a chain letter, and if it is threatening or scary, passing it to appropriate authorities may be useful.
- Spam/Junk Mail
Spam is unsolicited, usually commercial, e-mail, and often sent indiscriminately to as many addresses as the sender can obtain. Junk mail is synonymous. Both ISP’s and mail programs have ways of lessening or eliminating junk mail, but this may not stop the flow.
Spam can include graphic images that people would rather not see – or parents would rather teens not see, as well as executable files or other deleterious attachments that should be trashed immediately without opening.
- Use of the Internet at School
Most schools have Internet policies that limit what students are allowed to do during on the Internet during school hours and/or using the school’s e-mail system at any time. The school may provide access to safe resources on a special web page.
Items that help protect teens when they are on-line:
- Filter software and parental controls
- Family-friendly ISPs
- Sites that guide teens to appropriate material
- IM blockers and e-mail junk/spam detectors
- Settings that prevent e-mail from opening attachments automatically, while alerting users to their presence.
Online Safety Sources: