While the internet gives people lots of opportunities, opens new worlds for both function and leisure and makes life much simpler with the advent of online shopping and the ability to pay bills online, it can make life harder for teenagers. Unfortunately, the things they post online have been known, with increasing frequency, to come back to haunt them. Because there are no secrets online, educate your children about the internet and explain why they should not post personal information of any kind online.
First, explain the dangers posed not only by divulging too much information but by the internet in general. While children don’t always listen to their parents, if you repeat the message frequently and the “why” behind it, they’ll hear you. Do some research so you can introduce real life examples of children who shared too much information online and experienced a negative repercussion as a result, so they have context. Unfortunately, there are many instances where a child innocently posted where they were constantly, their home address, that mom and dad were gone or other seemingly innocuous information that someone then used against them, to their detriment. While sharing in general is OK, children need to understand which information is OK to share, with whom, where and, most importantly, why.
Secondly, if you’re not familiar with the world of cyberspace, do some research so you can have an educated discussion with your child and teach them how to avoid problems by not sharing personal information as there are no online secrets. For example, teach them to avoid chat rooms. Show them what a secure website looks like compared to an unsecured website and explain why they should only use secure sites, for their own safety and security. Further let them know that if they don’t want you, as their parent, or their grandparents, to see information, it should not be posted online. Use that as the litmus test. Explain that it’s important to keep personal information personal. Additionally, they should always remember that despite the fun and excitement that the internet can introduce, there are predators out there.
Finally, make sure that your children understand the idea that “there are no secrets online”. If you post it, it’s available for public consumption and eventually someone without the best of intentions will find it. It may be an online stalker, a chance encounter, or someone looking to be malicious. The threat is no longer limited to hackers and computer geniuses; in fact, there are always back doors and ways to get around security settings, even accidentally. Never assume that something is safe because you only emailed it to one person or because you deleted it from your Facebook page. Digital footprints of your activities are left behind, leaving you vulnerable to someone who may use those secrets to harm you later. Of course, while not everyone is going to be attacked with the information they post online, it doesn’t hurt to be careful.
The dangers of posting information online range from stalking and predators, to social consequences and embarrassment. Use the internet as a resource and be mindful of what you put post for public consumption.