We parents didn’t grow up using the internet. The closest we got to getting online was a dial-up email account with CompuServe. Remember that? And what was up with that long string of numbers for an email address? It’s amazing how much has changed…
Unfortunately, we parent the way our parents parented us. If you stop and listen to yourself while you’re talking to your kids, you may just hear your mom’s or dad’s voice – saying the same things you heard when you were a kid.
And that’s a problem when it comes to internet safety. We parents didn’t receive those parenting skills. Sure, we learned things like “Don’t talk to strangers”, but nothing like, “Don’t open spam email” and “Be careful phishing attacks.”
So here’s what your teen needs to know:
The internet can be a very dangerous place. You will get a lot of eye-rolling on this one. But the fact is, kids are too trusting, and the bad guys know that. They will con your kid faster than you can dial 911. Explain how the world isn’t always what it seems to be and how this is especially true on the internet. Ask your teen to stop and think: Can he/she really be sure the “Melissa” he/she met online the other day really is female? Probably not.
Pirating software is illegal. And it can cost you a lot in fines and legal fees when your teen gets caught. Yes, everyone does it. But if everyone raped and pillaged, would it be ok if we raped and pillaged, too? And just because no one is watching, does it make it ok to steal? Here’s what you can do: Bring your kid to 7-11, wait till the clerk is not looking, then tell your teen to shoplift. Chances are he/she will be repulsed by the idea. (If not, skip this column.)
Cyber bullying is also illegal. Terroristic threatening, character assassinations, hate crimes, etc. can also land your teen in jail and invite the evening news crew to your doorstep. In the comfort of our homes and especially closed bedroom doors, we are lulled into feeling no one is watching. We may even adopt false identities online to remain anonymous. Explain to your teen that all this is false. The truth is, we can uncover everything your teen does online. We can retrieve every email. We can find out what she has done. So don’t do anything stupid, unfair, unkind or illegal. Eventually people will find out.
It’s tough to erase that sexy MySpace pic. By this I mean, what you do online generally stays online long after you’ve done your best to delete it. I long for the old blackboard and chalk days when you could right something silly on the classroom’s blackboard and safely erase it before the teacher arrived. The internet is digital and – ironically – digital stuff is often very hard to get rid of because it propagates through the net so easily. Tell your teen not to do anything which may jeopardize 10 years from now a job interview, college application or marriage proposal.
One click can ruin a perfectly good computer. Well, it’s not as dramatic as that. But the truth is the internet, and sites catering to teens in particular, are rampant with viruses and other malicious software. And as I mentioned earlier in this column, teens are juicy online targets because they are generally too trusting AND because they typically feel utterly invincible. (We were that way, too, remember?) The message is this: Stay away from ghetto sites, delete all spam – don’t even open them up – avoid all links in emails, and don’t download anything. Period. Or you may have to bring your sick computer to one of service centers…
Sit down with your teen. Take an interest in what he is doing online. Use it to build an even better rapport with your child. And while you’re at it, be sure to outline very clearly what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior online. Your teen will actually appreciate the discipline.