Friday, November 20, 2009

Safety on the Internet: A Guide for Teens

The Internet has opened up a whole new world for people of all ages. You can shop, plan a vacation, send a picture to a relative, talk with friends, and even do research for your class project. Most people agree that since the Internet has been around, it has changed our lives for the better. But unfortunately this new way of finding information and communicating comes with risks. For example, when you visit an unfamiliar neighborhood or go to a party, you think of ways to stay safe. You also need to use similar guidelines when you're using the Internet. This information guide was created to help you find reliable information, make you aware of the possible dangers when communicating on-line, and give you tips to keep you safe!

What is a web address?
If you want to start using the Internet, you will most likely use a web browser called Internet Explorer or Netscape Navigator. There are four major kinds of web addresses. To get to a "web site", you need a "web address". The endings give a clue as to what type of web address it is. Try to see if you can figure out what the last three letters of the web address stand for. For example:
  • Web addresses that end in .gov are government web sites. Check out one of our government's websites at:
  • Web addresses that end in .edu are websites that are connected guessed it! -"educational institutions" like schools and colleges. Now you're getting the hang of it! Check out a college web site at:
  • Web addresses that end in .org are usually, but not always connected with an organization. Check out This is our web site! Pretty cool, huh?
  • Web addresses that end in .com are connected with a commercial site or a company that is selling something. Check out, which is Nickelodeon's site. Bet it makes a little more sense now.
Can I trust everything that I read on the Internet?
The answer is NO! Being able to tell if something on the Internet is reliable, accurate, true or real is tough for adults and even harder for teens. There's lots of information out there. Some of it is good information but some of it is just plain bad and not true. Everyone, even adults, must first question any information they read on the Internet until they can figure out if the information is true or false. For example, there are some individuals or groups that may try to sell a product on-line, so they may use false statements to try to get people to agree with them. So you're probably wondering, how can I tell what information is okay and what isn't okay? Here are some general tips on how to tell if the web site and information is reliable:
  • Web sites that end in .gov are generally reliable because they are connected with our government.
  • Look for the name of the organization and the author of the web site and when the information was updated. Reliable web sites often have a list of references or contacts where you can find out where the information originally came from.
  • If you are looking for facts, check out a few different web sites to compare information. If you are in doubt, double check facts at the library. This way you will know which web sites give you correct information.
  • Ask your teachers about reliable web sites to go to for homework help. Once you find a reliable web site, you can bookmark it so you can easily find it later.
  • Ask your health care provider about web sites to go to for reliable health information. When you get a recommendation from a professional, it most likely will be a respected web site with reliable information.
  • Reliable web sites usually have reliable links — so when you get lucky and find a great web site, you most likely will get to know other good sites too.
What should I do when I want to begin using the Internet?
When you want to begin using the Internet to find information or to chat with or e-mail your friends, it is important that you talk to your parents first. Even if your parents don't know much about computers or the Internet, they can help you think about ways to stay safe. You can work together and agree on rules for using the Internet, such as whether it is okay to go on-line and when, what kind of Internet sites you can go to, and how to set up an e-mail account. You and your parents can set up filters, which means that some sites that contain inappropriate things like hateful or violent messages won't open on your computer.

Does it matter what on-line name I choose for myself?
Yes! You should NEVER use your real name as your on-line name. You may already know this but it is a common mistake that teens and adults make. By using your real name, anyone knows immediately who you are and with a little bit of work, they could probably find out even more about you. This is especially true in chat rooms where you can get comfortable chatting with someone and suddenly realize they know your name, age, where you live, and where you go to school.

What kind of on-line name should I choose?
You probably want your name to describe who you are but again you need to be careful about the name and words you choose. Remember when you're talking on-line to people you don't know well, some people may unfairly judge you by your on-line name. For example, if you choose a name like: hotbabe13, people will get the wrong impression of you and you most likely will get unwanted e-mails from people who are just responding to your on-line name and not to who you really are. If you can't think of an on-line name to use without describing something about yourself, try using the name of a candy bar, color, or something else that's not personal. If the name is already taken, you can try adding a few numbers, for example — Green123.

What is a profile?
When you create an on-line name or e-mail account, you can usually set up a profile to identify yourself. Talk to your parents first about whether or not you should fill out this information. A profile will ask you for information about yourself like your name, address, and hobbies. Remember that your profile is the fastest way for anyone to find out more about you. It is never a good idea to use your last name or address!

What do I do if I accidentally get to an inappropriate Web site?
If you find that you are at a site that you know is inappropriate, click the "Back" button on the top of the screen. This will bring you back to the original web site that you were viewing. If you get "pop-ups" (usually small windows with unwanted advertisements), just keep closing the windows by clicking the X button until you are back on the original screen that you were looking at. You should tell your parents what the web address was so that they can block the site from your computer. Many web browsers track web activity and create an Internet history. So, remember that your parents may be able to check what web sites you have recently looked at, and remind you not to go to any sites that are inappropriate.

What is IMing, and is it safe?
IMing is short for "Instant Messaging" which is a super fast way to e-mail someone from your computer or certain kinds of digital cell phones. IMing has its own language made up of short abbreviated words such as brb for "be right back" and lol for "laughing out loud." In order for IMing to work, you and the people you plan to IM must download the software first. The software allows you to set up an address or buddy list of the people you want to IM. Since IMing isn't as private as you might think, it's important to know how to stay safe and have fun too:
  • Always ask your parents permission first, before you download IM or other software!
  • Do not respond to IM's from people you don't know or IM's that look strange. It is possible to get unwanted IM's and similar to E-mails, IM's can contain viruses.
  • Don't forget to sign off of Instant Messenger when you are finished- and change your password regularly. This will prevent others from using your IM account.
  • If you receive an IM that makes you feel uncomfortable, do not respond to it. It's best to tell your parents about it too.
What is a chat room and are they safe?
Some Internet services allow you to talk with other people in a chat room, a place that you can go to and talk to more than one person at a time. Chat rooms are often organized around topics such as sports, hobbies, fan clubs. There are so many different kinds of chat rooms that it's possible to talk to people all around the world, 24 hours a day.

Before you enter a chat, be sure you have your parent's permission to do so!

Some chat rooms are considered to be safe because the topic that is being discussed is safe and because there is a moderator or chaperone who is leading the discussion. But just because a chat room has a neutral topic it doesn't guarantee that some people in the chats won't talk about other things that might make you feel uncomfortable.

Can the chat moderator make sure nothing bad happens in the chat room?
A chat moderator supervises a chat and watches over things. A moderator can kick someone out of a chat if they write something inappropriate, but the moderator can't prevent you from going to a private chat area with someone who might harm or threaten you. If you have permission to go to a chat, be careful to check out the topic of the chat. Your parents can check out the chat room first to see if it contains inappropriate conversation. Some people who go into chats may want to imagine that you are someone you are not or play out their fantasy by saying inappropriate things to you. If anyone makes you feel uncomfortable or starts asking you inappropriate questions, leave the chat immediately.

What should I know about downloading information?
It's possible to download all sorts of information, programs, and music from the Internet. After you have your parent's permission to download something, be sure that you know exactly what you are downloading, and whom the download is from, before you do it. If you don't know who is sending you the information, don't download it because it might have a virus, which can damage the computer's memory or hard drive.
  • If you accidentally begin downloading something, push the "Stop" button at the top of your screen. This will stop the download from completing and will cancel the process.
  • Make sure you have an updated version of virus protection software on your computer!
What is proper Internet etiquette?
Netiquette is the word used to describe Internet etiquette (manners), or the way that you should behave while on-line. It is important to always be considerate of others and never use bad language. Only say things on-line that you would say face-to-face with a person. Some Internet Service Providers can monitor what you say to others. If you use inappropriate language, your Internet provider may send a warning to the head of your Internet account, which usually is a parent. You could have your Internet privileges stopped by your Internet provider or your parents!

Is it okay to share my password with my best friend?
No. You should not share your password with any of your friends, even your best friend. The only people who should know your Internet or e-mail password are your parents and you! Your password is private. If you let someone else know what your password is — whether it is a total stranger or even your best friend — then they can read anything that you may want to keep private. Another person could use bad language or go to inappropriate sites under your name. You are required to enter a password for a reason — to keep yourself safe!

Is there anything that I shouldn't tell someone on the Internet?
Yes! Just like you wouldn't walk up to a stranger and tell them your name, where you live, where you go to school or give them your phone number, you shouldn't share this kind of information on-line either. It is very important that you don't e-mail or instant message anyone that you don't know or share any information that can identify you. Don't put your picture on the Internet unless you are e-mailing a friend or family member. If you are talking to a stranger, you have to be really careful because there are adults who take advantage of young people.
  • Don't give out credit card information over the Internet. Believe it or not, it's really easy for someone to steal your money this way.
  • Don't e-mail your photo or any information that identifies YOU.
  • Never give clues about yourself, where you live, where you work, where you hang out with your friends, where you shop etc.
  • Never, ever share your name, address, phone number, etc.
How can I tell if someone is telling the truth?
The scary thing is that it's REALLY hard to tell if someone is telling the truth. There are people out there who misrepresent themselves and stalk young girls on the Internet. For example, someone may lie and tell you that they are much younger or even older than they are. Since you can't see them, you never know if they are telling the truth. Even if you try to check on the person by reading their on-line profile, a person can easily lie about themselves and their age. Bottom line is that some people who use the Internet are not trustworthy and could hurt you.

What do I do if someone I talk to on the Internet wants to meet in person?
Because of all the risks involved with meeting a stranger in person, it's best never to meet someone you met on-line in person. If someone that you met on-line wants to meet you in person, you should tell your parents right away.

What do I do if someone on the Internet is harassing me?
If someone on the Internet sends you lots of e-mails, follows you into chat rooms, or sends you messages even after you have stopped responding, then the person may be harassing you. First, tell your parents right away about the person. The next step is to try ignoring the person while you are on the Internet to see if they will leave you alone and get the hint. If they continue to bother you even after you have stopped responding, then you and your parents can call your Internet Service Provider and complain about the other person's behavior. You and your parents can talk to the police and you can record a complaint at the Cyber Tipline at It is not your fault if someone starts bothering you! You and your parents can stop them from harassing you and someone else.

Being safe on the Internet sounds easy but it takes time and experience to know what is okay to share with people on-line. Remember, people on-line are strangers so it's best NOT TO SHARE ANY PERSONAL INFORMATION AT ALL! NEVER meet anyone that you have met on-line even if you think that you really have gotten to know someone well. This is the biggest risk you can take and can put you in danger. Talking to your parents about what you can or cannot do on-line ahead of time is the best way to keep safe and have fun while using the Internet!