Internet Tips for Kids and Teens
It’s hard to imagine a world without the internet. The worldwide web offers all the information that you could ever hope to find out. In some respects, it’s like a completely different world altogether. There are games, stories, articles, and an endless list of ideas for new projects and new thoughts. However, much like the real world, it’s extremely important to stay safe while you’re online. It may not seem like there’s much danger when you’re sitting in your chair at home, but again, much like the real world, there are online thieves, stalkers, bullies, and other criminals, made even more dangerous by the fact that their faces can’t be seen. This isn’t to say that the internet should be avoided at all costs; on the contrary, the internet can be a wonderful resource. What is critical to understand and to practice are simple safety measures that, while they may seem silly or unnecessary, are common sense principles, and will keep you safe online.
Ten Basic “Do” Rules:
- Observe the rules of your household. Many parents and guardians will set time limits for internet usage, and may come up with other rules to be observed while on the internet. Regardless of whether or not they seem “fair”, it is important to follow these rules. Parents are there to look out for you and keep you safe, and they often know things about the world that you haven’t learned yet. Trust them, and be honest with them about where you go online and what you do.
- Bring a parent or guardian with you to meet anyone from the Internet. It’s easy to make friends on the internet, but meeting them “in real life”, or in person, can be dangerous. Make sure that if you ever do plan to meet someone in person, you have a parent or guardian go with you to help keep you safe, and meet in a public place where you know the area and feel comfortable. Never meet someone alone.
- Be honest with your parents and tell them if something makes you uncomfortable. If you accidentally come across something on the internet that makes you uncomfortable, or looks or sounds inappropriate, immediately tell your parents. They can help you avoid these things in the future, and can guide you to viewing websites that you want to see and that are appropriate for your age. Trust your instincts – if there’s a part of you that thinks you really shouldn’t be reading or seeing it, then you’re probably right, and you should go tell your parents about it.
- Be a good example. When younger siblings are online, use your experience as an older sibling to help guide them if they need it. Remember, everyone goes through the same process of learning to safely use the internet, and as an older sibling, this is your chance to set an example for and guide your younger siblings.
- Keep a “Secret Agent” identity. Use an anonymous name while visiting chat rooms, forums, or websites where you interact with other users. “Anonymous” means keeping your name and identity secret, and this is important because there are people out there who will target you as a victim because of your name, age, or gender. If you keep your identity secret, you will be hidden from these people, and you’ll be much safer for it.
- Immediately close your browser if inappropriate images or language appear in “pop-ups”. “Pop-ups” are like Trojan Horses for viruses and other things that can infect your computer. Computer viruses will mess with the hardware, and will make you lose things like games, documents, or pictures. No matter what you’re working on, if an inappropriate pop-up appears, close your browser and protect your computer – after all, if the computer dies, you won’t be able to go online anymore! If pop-ups keep appearing, ask your parents about setting a “pop-up blocker” in place, and that way, you won’t have to keep interrupting your internet time.
- Use the Internet for research and to access libraries. One of the most wonderful things about the Internet is the fact that it brings so much information to your fingertips in so short a time. Take advantage of the sources it has to offer! Websites that end in “.gov” or “.edu” are usually the best and the ones with the most trustworthy information.
- Remember the Real World! One of the dangers of the Internet is that it’s so easy to lose track of time. The Internet can be fun, but it can hurt your eyes and back if you use it for too long. Use the Internet to help get your homework done, and then reward yourself by going outside and enjoying the sunshine and the breeze, and remember, there’s no online substitute for the fun you can have playing with your friends!
- Follow the Golden Rule, even online. You’ve probably learned the rule that says, “Treat others the way you wish to be treated,” and it’s true! If you’re polite and courteous to other people online, most will be polite to you, and you’ll make everyone’s online experience more fun.
- Use virus-scanning software whenever you download a file. Like pop-up ads, online files can house nasty viruses. To keep your computer safe, make sure your parents have some kind of virus-scanning software installed on your computer – the software will make sure that the files are safe to download.
Ten Basic “Don’t” Rules:
- Don’t give out personal information – ever. Personal information is stuff like your name, your address, where you go to school, or who your friends are. It’s personal information because it belongs to you, not anyone else, and even if it seems safe to share, check with your parents or guardians before you do.
- Don’t send your photograph to anyone. Your parents likely already send your picture to family and friends with Christmas cards – no one online needs to see what you look like. If anyone online bugs you about sending your picture to them, immediately tell your parents.
- Never tell anyone online your username or password. Usernames and passwords are kind of like a lock and key; they let you into your stuff, and they keep other people out. Protect them, and never let anyone online trick you into telling them.
- If someone’s being mean, or you’re not getting along, leave them alone. Some people are mean by nature; if you get into an argument online, or if they’re being rude, don’t call them names or treat them badly in return. It’s up to you to be the better person – let the issue drop and either stop talking to them or leave the chat room or forum entirely.
- Don’t steal. This is different from stealing something at a store. On the Internet, images and articles are someone else’s “intellectual property”. This means that they came up with it, and they have the rights to it. If you post it without giving credit to them, then you are “stealing” their property. If you accidentally do it, then fix it by removing whatever it was that you posted that wasn’t your own – if you’re not sure whether you’re stealing or not, ask your parents or guardians to help you figure it out.
- Don’t answer email from someone you don’t know. If you get an email from a person or an email address that you don’t recognize, let your parents read it first. Some emails can have viruses, or may be specially designed to trick you into giving away information without you realizing it! Ask your parents to make sure it’s okay.
- If your friends are in trouble, don’t keep it a secret. It’s important to be trustworthy, but you need to know when to get help. If your friend is using the Internet inappropriately, or if they’re being bullied, stalked, or being approached by sexual predators, then you must tell your parents so that your friend can be helped.
- Do not post pictures or personal information on social networks like Facebook. There is no social network that is completely private. Even if you have privacy settings in place, there are people with special computer skills who can hack past those settings and see everything that you have on your page. Keep your personal information and your pictures a secret.
- Don’t remove files or emails from your computer. If you get an email or download a file that contains an inappropriate message from someone trying to meet you, don’t delete it, regardless of how embarrassing it may be. Sending these things is a crime, and the Police can use these files and emails to track down the person who sent it. Tell your parents if you receive anything scary or inappropriate.
- Don’t make friends with everyone. Just like in real life, be careful about who you decide to spend your time with. Your friends can influence your decisions, opinions, and judgment, and you don’t want to hang out with people who don’t have good morals. Be careful when picking your friends, and your time on the Internet will be all the more fun for it!
Resources for Parents
- A Parent’s Guide to Internet Safety – Direct from the FBI, this publication will walk parents through what they can do to help keep their child safe online.
- Parent’s Guide to Cyberbullying – This webpage explains what cyberbullying constitutes, and how kids can get caught up in it.
- Example Parent-Teen Internet Use Agreement – This agreement template can be used as an example of a family agreement, or can be printed out and used within the family. (PDF)
- CyberTipline – If your child is being exploited or solicited, this is the place to make a report about it. The website also has more information about child victimization and more parental resources.
- Talking with Kids about Tough Issues – The internet can lead your kids to ask tricky questions, and as a parent, it’s up to you to decide when and what to answer them with. To help you, ChildrenNow.org has provided a guide to talking to your children about difficult topics.
- WebWiseKids – This website not only provides The Modern Parent’s Guide to Kids and Video Games, but also offers a series of programs designed to let kids and teenagers practice what to do in difficult online situations.
Resources for Kids and Teens
- Internet Safety Contract for Students K-5th Grade – This internet safety contract will provide you with a clear, outlined plan of action for staying safe online. (PDF)
- Internet Safety with Professor Garfield – Watch a video with Garfield and his friend Nermal, and help them figure out what to do about an online bully!
- Social Networking Tips for Teens – This guide from the FCC will help walk you through how what you post online can be used, and what to avoid.
- Internet Safety for Teens – There are a lot of “hidden strings” that come with setting up profiles or clicking things on the Internet. This article outlines what to look for with these “hidden strings”, so you won’t be unprotected.
- X-Block – The place for students to learn about internet safety, hang out, and share their online experiences with others.
Resources for Teachers
- NetSmartz Workshop – A series of lesson plans and teaching tools are provided here by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and they also provide links to sections specifically for teens, tweens, and kids.
- iKeepSafe – iKeepSafe.org provides some programs to help teach students about cyber safety and the intricacies of new media developments.
- Safe Surfing for Parents and Teachers – In order to teach it, you’ve got to learn it; if you want to help keep your children or students safe, but aren’t sure where to start, this guide from the Colorado Attorney General will help map out a game plan.
- StaySafeOnline.org – The National Cyber Security Alliance has lessons, teaching materials, and resources for educators.
- Extensive List of Helpful Links and Resources – This long and comprehensive list contains links to many different websites for internet safety education, and covers topics like cyberbullying, media awareness, and internet protection.
Privacy and Safety
- Safety Tips for Kids, Teens, and Families – This list from the U.S. Department of Justice provides many helpful tips and ideas for staying safe online, and provides links for parents to pages that better explain some of the risks of surfing online.
- Internet Safety Tips for Kids – The Michigan State Police offer additional tips for staying safe online.
- Tools for Families – So you want to keep your kids safe online, but you may be wondering where to start. This page from GetNetWise will help walk you through setting up kid-friendly browsers, filtering search results, and additional safety protocol.
- Internet Safety from the National Crime Prevention Council – In addition to a guide and tips for parents, there are also activities and lesson plans to help teach your kids what they need to know. This page provides a link to the specially designed McGruff Safeguard software and browser, to help parents keep their kids safe.
- What Help is Available?: Computer Safety – See this page for information on computer safety and how to protect your privacy online.
- Children’s Internet Protection Act – There are laws in place to help protect children online; this guide from the FCC will walk you through the CIPA, and provides a print-out guide.
Social Media Safety Tips
- Kids and Socializing Online – Social networking sites are a wave of the future, but they can be dangerous, too. Read this to get a better handle on what social networking is and what the risks are, then talk to your children about it.
- STOP cyberbullying – This website explains what cyberbullying is and how to prevent it, and provides information sections for all age groups (including teachers, parents, and law enforcement) as well as a free, downloadable “Alex Wonder: Kid Cyberdetective” game.
- The Evolution of Cyberbullying – How did it start and when will it stop? This article investigates how cyberbullying began, and what can be done to stop it.
- Staying Safe on Social Networking Sites – The US Computer Emergency Readiness Team provides this article on why social networking can be dangerous, and how to keep it safe.
- Social Web Tips for Parents – Even if your children understand internet safety, you as a parent or guardian need to be in some kind of agreement with them. This page from ConnectSafely will offer some tips about how to set up a social networking site with your child.
Quality Websites for Kids and Teens
- Kids’ Tools for Searching the Internet – Compiled by the U.S. Department of Labor, this page contains links to kid friendly search engines and homework help. There’s even a resource section for parents at the bottom of the list!
- Book Adventure – For kids in grades K-8. Merge the best of the Internet with the fun of reading at this website, where you can read books and then take online quizzes to earn points for prizes! Check with your parents first.
- NSTeens – This website has games, videos, and comics that help put into practice what you’ve learned about internet safety.
- KnowItAll.org – Whatever you want to know about – art, Gullah culture, jobs, hobbies, Civil Rights - you can find it here on its own interactive adventure site!