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A teenager’s guide to cyber citizenship

Strategies to stay smart online
By Tena Davies, Psychologist, for the Net Negotiations Parent Program

Protect your digital reputation

What you post online stays online – Once you post something online you lose control of it, even if you delete it.  An embarrassing or offensive image or comment posted today can come back to haunt you years later. Think before you post.

Change your privacy settings – facebook default and recommended settings let anyone view your photos and status updates.  This means that everyone including your parents, teachers and even future boss can see what you post. Protect your privacy by changing your settings so only those on your friend list can see what you post.  On the facebook homepage go to Accountà click on Privacy Settingsà select ‘Friends Only’à select ‘Apply These Settings.’

The sex stuff

If you wouldn’t want your nana to see it, don’t put it online – Never pose for or upload images that you wouldn’t want your relatives, strangers or future employers to see.  Sexually suggestive photos can spread very quickly online and can be viewed in Google searches years later.

Don’t get charged with child pornography – Making, forwarding or possessing sexually explicit (naked or partly naked) images of people under 18 is illegal. This type of material is called ‘child exploitation material’ and has landed teenagers in jail. See www.lawstuff.org.au for laws in your state.

Viewing pornography is hazardous – Viewing pornography has been linked to being tolerant of violence towards women and seriously distorts expectations for real life intimacy.

Mind your manners

Think before you post – Don’t say anything online that you wouldn’t say in person. Saying rude, cruel or crass comments online, even as a joke, can be misinterpreted. To avoid unnecessary drama, think how others might interpret what you say before you post. If a drama starts online, resolve it offline, preferably in person.

Stay safe on and offline

Be cautious when talking to people online you don’t know in real life – Most teenagers know that meeting up with someone who they met on the Internet is dangerous, even if they’ve seen photos of them or chatted on the phone. However, every year a small percentage of teens do this, sometimes with dire consequences. Don’t let that be you or one of your mates. Speak to someone you trust if you are worried that this will happen.

Save your sleep

Wind down offline before you sleep – Sleep refreshes your brain, helps you process what you’ve learnt and keeps you sane. Staying online until you go to bed can disturb your sleep because the light from the computer tells your brain its time to be awake.  Its also hard to wind down if you are texting friends or checking facebook.

Save your sleep by:

  1. Logging off from mobile phones and computers for an hour before bed so your brain gets the message its time to sleep
  2. Having a relaxing wind down routine like listening to music or reading a book
  3. Going to bed at a similar time each day.

Avoid excessive Internet use by keeping connected in the real world

Being online or on your mobile for a couple of hours a day is pretty standard. However, if you spend most of your time online and are avoiding your family and friends it may be sign that there’s a problem.  As well as Internet addiction, some teenagers get addicted to online games, particularly the ones played in a group (MMORPGs). To avoid this:

  1. Keep up with your with friends and family offline
  2. Spend time with your family – even if its just a quick meal
  3. Take time out from your phone and computer and do something else… it will give you something to status update about anyway.

Downloading can be illegal

Don’t pinch music or movies – Downloading music and movies is easy to do but can be illegal as it infringes on copyright laws. Pay for music and movie downloads or make sure you have permission to do so if it’s a free site.

G.E.T. R.I.D. of bullies

Online bullies can leave you feeling bad about yourself. Your mutual friends can see you being bullied, which can be embarrassing. Even worse, you can be bullied in different ways (text, chat, through status updates) and at any time.  Don’t put up with it, instead:

Go block the bully so they don’t keep harassing you
Ensure to save evidence by printing or saving it
Tell someone you trust, dealing with bullying alone is difficult
Report it to the website administrator
Ignore the bully – don’t respond as it will only make it worse
Delete offensive facebook comments, don’t forward inappropriate text messages and deactivate your facebook account temporarily if it gets really bad (you can easily re-activate your account)

If you are being bullied in real life too, be sure to take action by talking to parents/teacher or someone else you can trust as these things don’t tend to solve themselves.

Useful online resources

thewoodverdict.blogspot.com click on ‘My Complete Guide for Stopping Cyber-Bullying’

reachout.com for general advice on youth

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