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Teen Talk: Cyber Safety & Internet Etiquette -- Socializing Online

(Archived Content: Originally published on -- a Telepictures/Warner Bros. property)

Don't walk alone at night. Don't talk to strangers. Don't drive drunk.

Street smarts. You've got them; you use them - what else is there to worry about?

On the Internet? plenty.

When you're curled up in front of the screen with your laptop, iPod and furry slippers, IMing friends, who wouldn't feel safe? For the most part social-networking sites are secure, harmless and totally fun.

But now and then Internet Etiquette can get a little tricky.

What's In a Word?

It's easy to lie in print.

Online anonymity provides freedom because you're facing the screen instead of facing the world - which leaves you free to write things you wouldn't say out loud.

Think about the kind of stuff you're willing to write in a blog or say in an IM, or send in an e-mail - ever have a friend get mad because they took your post seriously when you meant it as a joke?

Words on a screen are impersonal because you cannot see into the mind of the person who wrote them. In person, you can check out facial expressions and body language and tone of voice, making it easier to tell if someone's being honest or just telling you things you want to hear.

Online, you cannot tell if they're being serious or teasing, silly or sinister.

Cyber-Love (I've Never Met)

Even murderers can write poetry.

Rapists can simulate romance, stalkers can appear shy, physical abusers can seem sensitive. Surfing the cyber-world gives everyone the opportunity to escape from who they are in the real world, not just your peers -- and some have disturbing motives for shedding their real selves.

Don't be fooled by the idea that online you're getting to know the real person without all the superficiality of popularity and physical appearance getting in the way -- there is so much more to a person than the thoughts they put out on the Internet.

It is impossible to be in love someone you've never met.

You can like them, you can respect them, you can admire them - you might even spot some “potential” for love in them, but falling in love can only happen face to face.

Grooming - Not Just Personal Hygiene

The ultimate goal of a cyber-predator is to exploit you.

It is naïve to believe that strangers who contact simply looking to make new friends. Although that may be true in some cases, stranger contact must always be regarded with suspicion. If a creepy old guy with dirty clothes and a sleazy grin started following you around the mall, would it matter what he was saying? Who says that guy doesn't own a computer?

Predators don't lurk in shadows and bushes just waiting for a victim to come along - they choose their victims carefully and then set to work preparing them to accept their sexual advances in a process better known as grooming their victims.

Red Flag Alert! Getting Personal

Don't be lulled by the impermanency of IMing and chat rooms - unlike chatting IRL (in real life?), typed words aren't as temporary as you may think. They can be copy and pasted into a saved file to be gleaned later for personal information unintentionally revealed in what you thought was a casual conversation.

Even when you're playing one of the great online games offered by sites like Facebook that have an enabled chat feature doesn't mean it's safe to chat about where you live or go to school or any other information that should remain private, no matter how nice the rest of the players might seem. Profiles can be faked, and you never know who could be lurking in the room combing for potential targets.

Once they have that kind of private information on you, they can wait days or weeks before using it until you've forgotten ever mentioning it on the web. Then it's easy for them to pretend they know you.

Red Flag Alert! Our Secret

When you start chatting with someone you've never met face-to-face it can be exciting, but never forget - no matter how personal your conversations get, he's still a stranger.

And if he wants you to keep him secret from your friends and family there's a reason, and it's not the kind you'd find in romance novels.

Once he's established contact, he may try to convince you the sexual contact (whether virtual or IRL) is simply an expression of your “love” - don't buy it! He's grooming you to believe the relationship is developing into a romance but he's just studying you to find the right answers that will get you to agree to a sexual relationship with him.

When all is said and done, you never really know a person until you've spent some IRL time together.

But make sure you never set out to meet an Internet friend alone!
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