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The internet is forever

Staying safe and smart online

There’s a saying whispered among those of us who grew up in a time without screens: Thank goodness the internet didn’t exist when I was a kid. Our youthful indiscretions are thankfully left to fade into memory, while the generations who came after often leave an indelible mark online. For most of them, the worst that is captured are awkward teen selfies and outfits. However, in a time when posting to millions only takes a few seconds, it’s often too late to remember that what goes online, stays online.

Gen Y and Gen Alpha are the first to grow up in a time when social media use is ubiquitous. Since they don’t know what it was like before, it can be difficult to explain the enormity of being a good, respectful and conscientious online user — and how it might come back to impact their lives down the road.

Colleges, clubs and employers will have access to this information, and even if profiles or posts are deleted after second thought, there is always the possibility that someone took a screenshot. A good rule: only say or do things online that you’d say or do in front of your grandmother. Remind your kids:

  • Do not post explicit material of oneself or anyone else. This can have legal repercussions.

  • Remember, comments are posts too. Every username can be tracked to an individual user, so nothing is truly anonymous. Be kind.

  • Don’t say something online that you wouldn’t say in person. Bullying is not funny and can have serious impact on the victim — and the perpetrator.

  • If you’re having second thoughts about a post — don’t post it. Your gut is probably right.

There’s a lot to consider when scrolling through social media. First, what you see isn’t always reality. We all curate our posts to some degree, and this is especially true for celebrities and influencers.

Tell your kids that these people have an entire team making sure they take (and often manipulate) the best shots, so young people should be reminded they can’t compare their success or appearance to those of professional creators. The images of exotic locations, designer wardrobes and perfect make-up are unattainable — because they simply aren’t real.

Just as easy as creating an amplified lifestyle online, is creating a completely fake profile. In DMs, chats and other apps, you don’t always know who you’re talking to. It’s important that children, if given access to social apps at all, only interact with people that they know personally such as family members. Older children and teens should be reminded to be dubious of new or overly attentive interactions online, especially those requesting to meet in person. People with malicious intent can use fake photos to build an unassuming profile, or coerce young people into sending compro-mising information of their own.

As parents, we’re navigating an entire phenomenon that didn’t exist when we were growing up. It can be difficult to grasp the complexities and vastness of all the apps, websites and gaming platforms with which our children can interact with others outside our control. Having a talk with kids about the real-world consequences and dangers of what they do online, can help keep them safe from others — and even from themselves.


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