Internet Safety and Etiquette for Teens
Internet safety is hugely important, especially with how much time we all spend on it these days. So, here are 10 things for you or your teen to learn about internet safety.
1: Personal Information
What To Do
- Limit the amount of personal information you share with people online, both publicly and privately.
- Don’t share your address with anyone online.
- Don’t share your full name.
- Don’t share all your other socials, or any ways to contact you on public platforms.
- Don’t share IDs, email, Social Security number, or other important information.
What Not To Do
- You should not share personal information online because:
- If you share your address:
- Predators and other dangerous people can find you.
- People can send you inappropriate or dangerous materials.
- If you share your full name, email, phone number, etc:
- People can find your address.
- People you don’t know can contact you, and if a stranger can contact you, they can send you inappropriate, threatening, or otherwise dangerous content, or coerce you into sharing inappropriate or personal content with them.
Why Should I Keep Personal Information Private?
If people have your IDs, SSN, or other important government information, they can steal your identity, frame you for criminal behavior, etc.
Sharing other social medias (Discord, Instagram, Whatsapp, etc) can be dangerous because it increases the ways strangers can contact you. This can also provide stalkers/predators with more information about you that they should not have access to.
2: Privacy Settings
What To Do
- Keep whatever accounts you can private, so that people you don’t know can’t see your personal content or posts.
- Set up your messaging/account that only people you approve can message you, if you are able to. Only check these approval requests if you know that someone specific who you trust is attempting to contact you there.
- If a site or app allows people to tag you in photos or other posts, set it so that you cannot be tagged either at all or unless you previously approve the tag.
What Not To Do
- Don’t allow apps or sites to track your location.
- Don’t share your passwords with other people, and make sure to choose strong passwords that you’ll be able to remember.
Why Should I Stay Private On The Internet?
Limiting stranger’s access to you, especially as a minor, is incredibly important. By keeping your social media private, you ensure that you have control over who views your content. By being careful about who you allow to message you, you can protect yourself from potential harm that could come from people you don’t know messaging you.
If an app or site tracks your location, that information may be accessible by others, and your location is something you should never share with people online.
By limiting tags, you can make sure you aren’t associated with anything on the internet that you are uncomfortable with.
Sharing passwords to accounts with other people gives them a large amount of access, that no one but yourself should have. They could post things posing as you to get you in trouble or make you look bad, delete important things from your account, or share private information they find. Even if you think you can trust them, you should always be careful and avoid sharing access to personal accounts. If you want to share an account with someone, consider making a new account to specifically designate as a joint account, so that should things go sour, neither of you is at risk.
3: Internet Browsing
What To Do
- Be careful what kind of content you consume, and where you consume it:
- If you are a minor, it’s best to stay off of porn sites or similar webpages with inappropriate content. As an adult, it is important to monitor your child’s internet browsing, but try to work out this system with your child so that their privacy doesn’t feel too invaded.
- Steer clear of content that is triggering or that worsens your mental state as much as you are able to. The internet may make it difficult to avoid such content, but be careful to avoid it when you can.
- It’s best to stay off of pirating sites, as they can often harbor viruses and malware.
Why Should I Be Careful With What I View?
As a minor, being exposed to inappropriate, violent, or inappropriate content can be very harmful. Pornography can shape development in negative ways. It can impact the way one views sex, and can cause misconceptions about how healthy relationships work and what safe sex actually is.
Viewing violent or graphic content can be harmful and traumatic, even if one feels desensitized to it.
Viewing triggering content can be bad for mental health and recovery, and can be a major setback to staying stable and healthy.
4: Posting and Sharing
What Not To Do
- Don’t post personal information.
- Don’t post provocative or sexual content as a minor. Within this context, provocative or sexual content will be defined as:
- Anything imitating or implying sexual activities.
- Anything that would be labeled ‘thirst trap’ if done by a legal adult (or if you yourself are calling it a thirst trap).
- According to the dictionary/Wikipedia: material depicting explicit (clearly shown, easily understood) or implicit (implied or less obvious) sexual behavior.
- Don’t post about illegal activities.
- Don’t post anything that you would be uncomfortable with your parents, future employers, etc, seeing.
Why Should I Be Careful What I Post?
As a minor, you should not post sexual or provocative content because there are a lot of creeps on the internet and because it can make you a target for predators.
You should not post anything that you wouldn’t be comfortable with the world seeing. Once something is posted/uploaded on the internet, a permanent record of it is there that cannot be completely removed. Posting about illegal activity, overly personal/sexual content, etc are all things that could have a big impact on your future in a bad way.
If you post about doing illegal activities, it can be used against you and prevent you from getting jobs in the future, or have other negative impacts on your life and relationships.
What Not To Post: Specific Examples
- Things you should not post/share online as a minor:
- Nude images or videos
- Information about kinks or sexual preferences.
- Information about whether or how much you are sexually active.
- ‘Thirst traps’
- Evidence of you doing drugs, theft, or other crimes.
- Your phone number
5: Messaging: Strangers
What Not To Do
- Don’t contact people you don’t know, and don’t let people you don’t know contact you without taking proper precautions(ie, ensuring they are who they say they are, making sure they are near to your age, etc).
What To Do
- If someone you don’t know sends you threats or inappropriate content, block and report them immediately, do not engage with them.
What To Look Out For Online
Refusing to do a video or voice call is something very important to watch out for. While not always a bad sign, it is definitely a red flag if someone refuses to do a call of some kind to confirm that they are who they claim to be.
Showing little regard for boundaries. If someone is pressuring you to share information, photos, or other content with them, you should limit or cease contact with them, because you should only allow people who respect you and your boundaries to interact with you online.
If they are a very very new account (ie. no friends/followers, no activity, blank profile), steer clear of them unless you know it is someone you previously knew’s new account (ie, a friend has told you that they are making a new account and that the blank account is theirs). A new or empty account can show a desire to remain anonymous, which can be a sign of malicious intent.
Be very careful with romantic interactions online. This can be a bit of a difficult situation to lay out a clear instruction or warning for, because there are a lot of differing opinions on what is and isn’t appropriate, but steer on the side of caution.
If they send or ask for inappropriate (ie, sexual or violent/graphic) content and repeatedly do so after being told no, block them. It is important to limit these kinds of people’s access to you as much as is possible.
Asking to meet up in person, alone. If someone online insists on meeting in person but doesn’t want you to bring along a trusted adult or chaperone for safety, do not agree to meet them. If someone is genuinely safe and wants to meet up, they should understand that precautions are important and will not be uncomfortable with others being there to ensure safety.
6: Messaging: Friends
- If you know someone and are already friends with them, a lot of internet safety rules still apply:
- Don’t give out your address.
- Don’t share passwords.
- Don’t share inappropriate content, especially without consent. If they share such content with you and don’t respect requests to stop, tell a trusted adult and block them.
- Also, etiquette rules apply:
- Don’t send or talk about things you know they are uncomfortable with.
- Don’t share information they have told you or conversations you have had without their consent.
Respect their boundaries, and understand that nobody can ever be totally available 24/7. Even if people are online or viewing messages, they might not have the energy or mental/emotional space to have a conversation at the time, and it’s important to respect that, and understand that it doesn’t mean they don’t care about you.
On the other side of that, it’s just as important to remember that you don’t have to be available 24/7. If you don’t have the space to talk about something, or don’t have the energy to help someone, evaluate your options, and decide how to proceed. For example, if a friend had a bad day and you don’t have the space to talk about it, you might decide to wait and write them back tomorrow. If someone is in immediate danger, you might evaluate whether others are already helping before deciding to jump in.
7: Group Chats
What To Do
- Be safe:
- Don’t share personal information. Especially in a group chat where many different people will have access to that information, be sure to keep your personal information like address, email, and phone number private.
- Leave the conversation or group if something is making you uncomfortable, especially if you have voiced your discomfort and it has been dismissed. Do not feel bad about enforcing boundaries and keeping yourself safe.
- Be careful about who you allow to join group chats. Ensure that if you add someone:
- They are who they say they are.
- They are of an appropriate age to join (ie. An adult (18+) should not be joining a chat of 12 to 14 year olds, a 11 year old should probably not join a chat of 15 to 17 year olds, etc).
Mental Health And the Internet
Who you message and what you talk about can be really influential to your mental health, which is why it’s important to be careful with internet communication.
A few important things to remember/practice in relation to messaging and mental health:
- If a chat or person is negatively affecting your mental health, it is always ok to take a break for a while to recuperate, or permanently leave if it is having a serious impact.
- If you don’t have the energy or space to reply to something right away, you do not have to. You do not owe everyone 24/7 availability.
- Other people are also people, and can’t be available 24/7.
The internet, while a great resource for both information and entertainment, can be a toxic, stressful, and addicting place if one is not careful about how they interact with it. Here are a few important things to remember about how to interact with the internet in a healthy way:
- Avoid content that you know affects you negatively(things that are triggering, hateful comments or spaces, etc).
- Interact with positive spaces, like things related to your interests and hobbies that bring you joy.
- Make sure that you’re getting your news from sources that aren’t overwhelmingly fatalist, exaggeratory, or negative, and don’t focus exclusively on negative news, especially if there is no way you are able to influence or help the situation.
- Set limits for the time you spent online. As much as it may sound like an old person or nagging parent stance to take, it’s important to prevent yourself from becoming dependent on the time you spend online. It’s important to spend time doing offline activities, as it helps you stay connected and grounded in reality, which is crucial for mental health.
- Don’t be online or on screens for a while before you sleep. The light from phone and computer screens and the stress that can sometimes come from being online can negatively affect your sleep, which is another crucial part of mental health.
Internet Safety Resources:
- If someone sends you inappropriate content, you can report them at www.cybertipline.com, as well as reporting their account or message. This ensures that their actions will not go unreported/unnoticed by law enforcement.
- If you or someone you know/are speaking to need a suicide hotline, online hotlines are available at: