Teengirl has grown up with the internet. When I was her age we had one BBC computer in the whole school and all we ever did was play Pacman on it. At 14 Teengirl knows more about the internet than I ever will. She could access and search on Google when she was just 5 and by the time she was in Year 2 in Primary they had laptops in every class.
You and I both know that being online isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be. There’s bullying and harassment; sexual predators and paedophiles; manipulators and scammers. And there’s mistakes a plenty to be made that we at least had the pleasure of making privately.
But online isn’t as bad as the media makes it out to be. I promise you, it isn’t. Look your online now and you’re not being harassed or bullied. The internet is a great thing when you know what you’re doing and when you have the tools to be safe.
There’s no point in telling our teenagers to just ‘say no’ (who remembers that Grange Hill song?) to the internet. They need to be on it or it’s social death for them. And if we’re just shouting at them telling them how bad it is we’ll get nowhere.
So here are some of my ‘words of wisdom for teenagers’ I recently shared with a woman writing a presentation for 14 year olds on how to stay safe online. Feel free to share them with your teenager. Or feel free to add some of your own in the comments below.
How to stay safe online:
- Don’t put pictures up of you in your boxers, your bikini or your underwear – those attract the wrong kind of people. My rule of thumb for putting pictures online is – if you wouldn’t want your mum to see it then don’t put it up there.
- If the person sounds too good to be true then they probably are.
- If you are considering meeting a person you’ve met online Skype them first then you can see if they are actually 14 or 45. If they refuse to Skype then don’t meet them.
- Watch Catfish on MTV.
- Search on google for them to find out if they really exist.
- Do not ever give them your address or phone number – you don’t have to do these now that there’s Skype and Facetime.
- If you’re worried about something you’ve done, said or has been done to you or said to you tell an adult you trust, that adult might be an older brother or sister, a parent, a teacher, a friend’s parent, just make sure you tell someone who you think will help you
- Adults won’t judge you for having done something silly, we’ve all been there and done silly things, so talk to us if you’re worried.
- Go with your gut – if something doesn’t feel right then it probably isn’t right. You have good judgement, believe in yourself.
Rule of Thumb - if it doesn’t feel right, or is too good to be true – then stay away from it/them.
Sexting and Sex-Emailing (I don’t know what else to call it!?)
You know how when you tell your friend something in confidence she then goes and tells one other friend and then that other friend tells one other friend and before the end of the day the whole school knows that secret you told just one friend?
Well when you sext or email a boy or a girl the same thing can quite easily happen:
- The sext/email receiver is so pleased to get a picture of you in your bra or your boxers or to hear the sexy things you want to do with him that they can’t help forwarding it to a friend (just the one, just to prove the sexts are real or just to show off a little bit) and before you know it the whole school has been forwarded your sext or picture.
- And once something like that is all round the school you won’t be allowed to forget it for the rest of your school life cos someone will always be more than happy to ask you about it or re-forward it.
- Or you may trust your boyfriend or girlfriend right now and think they’ll never share it with anyone else, but what if you split up? Lots of famous people have had pictures and sexts (and more) shown to the world out of revenge. That could be you with everyone in your school seeing you in your pants.
Rule of Thumb - if you wouldn’t happily walk about your school dressed in your underwear, don’t send pictures of you in your underwear cos in a matter of seconds the whole school could see it. If you wouldn’t stand up at assembly and say all those sex words then don’t put them in a message cos in a matter of seconds the whole school could have access to them.
Parents and officials tell teenagers who’re being bullied that they should just come off the websites, but the teenagers can’t. All their friends are on there so they’ve got to be there too or they’ll miss out. And teens will go onto Ask FM and other sites because they can’t be different from their friends even when going on their makes their lives hell. For some teenagers simply going to school is difficult because of bullying but nobody tells them to stop going to school!
Cyberbullying is a really difficult one to give advice for. We haven’t managed to eradicate bullying in schools or even the workplace so how can we eradicate it online? We haven’t even managed to find the tools to combat bullying in schools or help bullying victims in schools so how can we find and provide them for kids bullied anonymously online? In school, from my teenager’s experiences the victims are told to modify their behaviour so they won’t be bullied, the bully isn’t taken to task or made the change.
I’d love to have the answers to cyberbullying but all I can advise is to not keep silent about it.
Advice to Give Your Teen
- Block the person and ask your friends to block them so the bully becomes alienated.
- Don’t respond to them.
- Keep screengrabs of every single comment they put on your wall, text you, IM/PM you, Snapchat, etc.
- Don’t give them power by keeping quiet.
- Tell everybody that’ll listen what this person is saying and/or doing to you.
- And keep telling people including teachers, parents, friends. Bullies thrive on silence and fear don’t give them that, shout and shout loud about it to everyone who’ll listen.
- Remember, you did nothing to deserve this. You should not feel shameful or embarrassed or humiliated. As soon as you start talking about it you’ll discover so many more people than you could ever imagine have been bullied and kept it quiet, kept it their silent shameful secret.
- Don’t let it become your silent shameful secret. Shout about it.
I’m really sorry that I don’t have any other advice for what is a really important problem for teenagers today. I wish I did.
Rule of Thumb - adults have no idea how to deal with bullying effectively cos if we did we’d have managed to stop it by now. If someone is bullying you DON’T keep quiet, shout about it.