Most young people today have never experienced life without the internet. These days, digital technologies are used for everyday life activities like staying in touch with friends, doing schoolwork, and just having some fun. So in many ways you and your friends are more skilled than your caregiver(s) at navigating through and in the online world. Because you are so skilled and self-sufficient when using digital tech it’s important for you to be able to identify acceptable and unacceptable online content independently and know how to behave respectfully online and avoid online risks, just like in real-life. For example, if you were walking home from school and someone you didn’t know asked you to get in the car with them, you know that would NOT BE OK. In the same sense, you should not interact with those you don’t know online until you can make sure they are who they say they are. Many safety guidelines you use in real-life can be applied online as well.
Here are 10 simple online safety tips for when you are interacting with the online world.
#1 – Passwords
To prevent fraud (someone tricking/taking advantage of you for their gain), hacking (someone using your electronic devices and any information on them without your permission), and identity theft (someone using your identity, like your social security number or your name for their own benefit), passwords need to be strong (they should not be easily guessed and they should contain capitals and special characters), long, and unique. No online site or app that you use should have the same password as any other site. To make it easier to create and “remember” unique passwords, password tools like LastPass can be very helpful.
#2 – Security Questions
When answering or setting up security questions for an account, try not to use easily discoverable/publicly available information like your mother’s maiden name or the city in which you were born. The idea behind security questions is to help you access your account if needed, but also to keep it safe and secure from others who would use it for their own gain.
#3 – Password-Protect Devices
Because devices can store very sensitive information, like you or your caregiver’s personal information, passwords, banking information, and more, it is important that the phones/ipads and devices are locked with a unique code that only you and/or your caregiver(s) know.
#4 – Click Links with Caution
Be very cautious of any links you didn’t request or you don’t recognize that are sent by text, over email, or through social media from someone you don’t know; these are often a way to give the sender access to your device and/or your accounts. If these links say anything like promising that you’ve won something, be even more careful — remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Furthermore, if you mistakenly click on a link you should not have, definitely go ahead and change your password for that account (and any others that use the same password) immediately, just to be safe.
#5 – Be Wary of Online Questions & Quizzes
Hackers love to pose questions on social media platforms under the disguise of “fun.” What was your first dog’s name? Your birthday month? The place you were born? Your childhood best friend? All of these are common security questions used by banks and other organizations, and by answering them you may accidentally be revealing to them how to gain access to your accounts.
#6 – Purchase Only From Secure Sites
Never make a purchase or add your credit card or banking information on a website that is not secure. Secure sites will be designated with https:// (the “s” stands for secure), and will also likely have a lock symbol in the browser bar.
#7 – Use Privacy Settings
Go into your social media account settings and set your accounts to be “private” vs public. Although everything on the internet should be considered public and permanent, privacy settings are still important. Not only can they help protect your information from hackers, they also help you limit the number of people who see any content that you might post.
#8 – Choose Friends Carefully
Because not everyone on the internet is who they say they are, screening friend requests carefully is critical. Before you friend someone you don’t know online ask yourself the following questions: “Do I know and trust them in real-life? Do we have friends in common? Why do I want to be friends with this person?” If someone is not a friend in real-life, accepting a friend request merely to build your friends list/followers can be a risky decision. It’s important to know that on some social media platforms you can follow someone else, like a celebrity, without letting that person follow you back.
#9 – Use Secure Internet Connections and Anti-Virus Software
Be careful of using public wi-fi connections and make sure not to provide any private/personal information (banking, social security number, name, and address, etc.) while on a public network. Save those activities for when the network you are using is secure (safe), and better yet, protected by using a secure VPN connection. Additionally, make sure all antivirus programs you and your caregiver(s) are using are up to date. While they won’t protect against every threat, they will help detect and remove most malware (software used for dishonest means).
#10 – Log Off
Anytime a public device (e.g., school or library computer, a friend’s gaming system, or a classmate’s phone) is being used, you should make sure to log off all of your accounts and any sites that you visited when you are done. This is another way private information, thoughts, posts, etc. can be seen and used by people you don’t know and who don’t have your best interests in mind.
Activate Safe Search on each device you use within Google. When it is turned on it will automatically pass over content that is extreme in nature when you do your searches. This can make it easier to find good, helpful information when doing a school report or even when you are just curious and trying to learn about something new.
Stay Safe & Set Your Settings!
No matter what you are doing online, it’s important to set and revisit your privacy settings on a regular basis. Below are links to find specific privacy setting instructions for some of today’s most popular social apps, cellphones, and games.
Below are some platinum rules for being online that revolve around safety and protection — of yourself, your self-esteem, your reputation, your privacy, and your heart. Read below to learn some important tips and tools to engage responsibly online.
Do not let other people’s opinions begin to weigh more than your own. Most comments have more to do with the commenter than your content.
Unfriend/unfollow/block those who make you uncomfortable, and don’t waste time trying to argue with others who engage in digital drama, negative posts, or hate speech.
Block and report are helpful tools, use them!
Be a value-add on the internet, rather than contributing to the noise and negativity.
Think before you post and consider your intentions. What we put online doesn’t go away. It stays with us and can leave a lasting image of who we are — even if we don’t see ourselves that way anymore. Create a positive digital footprint that represents the “real” you!
Obtain consent before posting or sharing any images or information about someone else.
Balance your online life with real-time, positive human contact, socially responsible and age-appropriate activities, relationships, and physical exercise.
Develop good “unplugging (disconnecting) muscles.” Try the Take Control Toolkit, courtesy of the Center for Humane Technology.
Keep your privacy settings ON and follow the safety guides and terms of service for each platform/app/console/site you use.
Actual human beings read/hear what you say, and your online subscription does not give you free reign to be cruel or rude to them.
Good sportspersonship rules extend to the virtual world as well: no hate speech, phobic remarks, misogyny, rape “jokes,” or threats.
The gamerverse can be particularly toxic for female-identified people — if you are one, keep your antennae tuned and block and report accordingly. If you are not female-identified, shut it down when you see it, and work to not make it worse.
In an ideal internet, you could exist and interact without worrying about hackers, malware, and cyber-attacks. Unfortunately, this is not the world we live in and taking safety measures to ensure this doesn’t happen to you is necessary. If you feel your account was hacked in any way, immediately change your passwords and notify a trusted adult. Read below to learn some important tips and tools to help protect yourself from being hacked.
Commit to two-factor authentication to improve your security.
Do not share passwords. If needed, only share your passwords with a trusted caregiver; friends and intimate relationships may change and you don’t want just anyone having access to your personal information and social media accounts.
Most phishing and malware attacks are carried out via fake emails, so be careful clicking or downloading attachments or online links from people you do not know.
If/when you can’t avoid public WI-FI, use a secure network or an app to create a VPN (virtual private network).
Avoid posting any personal information or details that might allow a hacker to guess your security questions. Many social media quizzes are designed to get that information from you.
If you are tricked into disclosing personal information by a targeted scam, change your login, password, and PINs (personal identification numbers) on the real site, then notify your banks and/or the business where the fraud occurred. Ask to speak to their fraud department.
Never install software mods from unrecognized links sent via emails, instant messaging, etc. Instead, only go to the official app store or game store to install the games.
If anyone besides you has gained access into your account, you should change your password immediately.
If you have been hacked, warn your contacts not to click on suspicious messages that may have been sent using your account; flag specific messages if you can, and delete them from your feed.
When you interact through screens, think through the consequences of your actions, understand the impact of your behavior on others, and behave appropriately, responsibly, and safely so as to protect your reputation, your partners, friends, family, and yourself. Be a value-add on the internet, rather than contributing to the noise and negativity. Read below to learn some important tips and tools to help you stay in charge of your digital footprint.
Anytime you hit “send” it provides someone, somewhere a record of your behavior that is no longer in your control. Assume that anything you share on social media can be shared with everyone including teachers, grandparents, police, or classmates.
Use privacy settings to control and manage your updates and your audience to increase your freedom around being your authentic self online. Click BLOOM’s Safety & Privacy page to find out how.
Even with the best privacy settings, your posts may be seen by people who don’t ask, need, or want to see them.
Think before you post and consider your intentions. What we put online doesn’t go away. It stays with us and can leave a lasting image of who we are…even if we don’t see ourselves that way anymore. Create a positive digital footprint that represents the “real” you!
Do not compromise your values or reputation just because you are online.
When (not if) you screw up, correct your mistakes to maintain the integrity of the sites and platforms you use as well as yourself.
Keep your feeds and interactions positive: no hate speech, phobic remarks, misogyny, rape “jokes,” or threats.
Let your content speak for itself and do not rely on being silly, scandalous, or foolish to gain followers or likes.
You are never as anonymous as you think you are; what you say today can come back to haunt you, weeks, months, or years later.
Don’t forget that actual human beings read the words you post/text/send, and remember that your computer does not give you free reign to be cruel or rude to anyone.
We all have off days. We all make mistakes. With the speed at which we are trained to act and react online, it is almost certain that at some point, you are going to cross a line and hurt someone’s feelings, reputation, or relationship through your online actions. Read below to learn some important tips and tools to help you engage responsibly, make better decisions, and avoid posting regret.
Think before you post. The consequences of your behavior can have very, very heavy impacts on the people you are targeting. Reflect on the intention of your post and think about how your post might affect others. Be sure to ask yourself if you are posting to make someone jealous, hurt someone’s feelings, or if it might make someone feel left out.
If you hurt someone’s feelings, offended someone, did something that crossed the line of OK or seemed rude, shared personal details that someone trusted you with, or posted something racist, sexist, or “phobic,” then apologize ASAP and take it down.
Digital communications come with a built-in sense of immediacy, but resolving things doesn’t always work like that; rebuilding trust and relationships takes a while. Try to reach out in-person or via a phone call to the individual(s), if you can.
Trying to feel better about yourself by making someone else feel worse will only keep you feeling crappy about yourself.
We live in a digital age, and treating people as less-than or tormenting and/or using threats against others is not tolerated. At best you can be suspended from certain apps, at worst you can face criminal charges.
If you hurt someone online, make it right by calling out what you did, showing why you think it was wrong, explaining what you have learned, and committing to doing it differently in the future.
Targeting, attacking, insulting, or treating someone differently because of things they cannot change (such as their skin color, place of birth, sexuality, or gender etc.) is NOT OK.
The consequences of your behavior can have significant impacts on the people you target.
If you think you have a problem and/or may be a bully, don’t be embarrassed to ask for help from a school counselor or other professional.
The American Academy of Pediatrics advocates that you spend no more than an hour or two per day engaged in entertainment media. That works out to ten to fifteen hours a week. If you are using screens for entertainment more hours a week than you are doing your homework or hanging out with friends, it can lead to a host of problems: mental, physical, and emotional. Extensive use of digital media/technology can have a host of physical side effects. Some of these include eye strain, vision issues, carpal tunnel syndrome, “tech neck” (neck pain that’s caused by strain and stress to the muscles and tissues of the cervical spine), and headaches. Read below to learn some important tips and tools to protect yourself against the negative physical effects of being on screens.
The more you get wrapped up in follower counts, the more likely you are to do something sexy, scandalous, or stupid. Do not risk your health, body parts, or personal safety by doing something risky for the “likes.”
The 20/20/20 rule is easy to remember and a great way to avoid the different types of digital eye strain (e.g., headaches, dry eyes, blurred vision, and permanent damage requiring medical intervention) that can occur.
For every 20 minutes you spend on a screen, take a 20-second break to look at something 20 feet away.
Mind your privacy settings (as well as your location sharing), as some social networking apps can make it easy for predators to find, track, and locate you IRL (in real life) through GPS (Global Positioning System) location, mapping, and patterns of “checking in” when posting.
Holding your device up and in front of your face (rather than down in your lap), stretching your arms to the side and behind you while leaning backwards, and breaks from your devices can help you avoid the dreaded “tech neck” and help your posture.
Sleep is important for growth, attention, and mood management. The more artificial light you are exposed to and the closer to bedtime you are exposed to it, can mess with your ability to fall asleep. Try blue glass glasses, having at least an hour of screen-free time before bed, and getting plenty of natural light during the day to help.
Long periods of screen time, especially in awkward positions or with repetitive movements, can cause physical pain and discomfort; vary your positions, take breaks every 20 minutes, and don’t forget to do other, physical activities that involve moving your body, sunshine, and fresh air.
Most video game play is sedentary, and extended and uninterrupted game time promotes a more sedentary lifestyle. This is known to have negative health effects, including obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.
Any prolonged noise over 85 decibels (about what you hear when using a blender or lawnmower) can put your ears at risk for permanent damage. Just because you don’t feel pain while playing or listening to music, doesn’t mean you aren’t in danger of hearing loss. Sound doesn’t have to be uncomfortable to do damage. Be sure to not have the volume on your headphones or earbuds up too loud.
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