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For Teens & Tweens: Savvy Interacting

Surfing the Internet

The Internet gives us access to a vast amount of information. Whether it’s to do research for homework, play games, watch videos or communicate with friends, almost anything can be found on the Web.

There is also false, illegal, racist, sexist, hateful and demeaning content in cyberspace. Just because information is on the Internet, doesn’t mean it is true, accurate or legal.

  • If you see content that makes you feel uncomfortable, hurt, confused or scared, tell your parents or a trusted adult. Avoid such sites in the future.
  • Have your parents or a teacher show you how to use search engines like Google or Windows Live effectively to find the information you want.

Using Email

Attachments to emails may contain viruses. Don’t open email attachments you did not ask for or that are from someone you don’t know or trust.

Email allows you to communicate with anyone from around the world in a matter of minutes. You can attach documents, pictures or videos to your messages.

Anyone who uses email will likely get unwanted email, or spam. Spam usually directs you to a certain website and, most often, wants you to buy something. Spam senders often pretend to be someone you trust, like a friend, your bank or a government agency.

Attachments to emails may contain viruses. Once you open the attachment, the virus infects your computer and may alter the way your computer works.

  • Keep your password private.
  • Don’t share your email address with anyone you don’t know.
  • Don’t share others’ email addresses without their permission.
  • Don’t respond to spam. If you do, spammers know you are a target.
  • Make sure your email filter settings are set high enough to deal with spam.
  • If you receive any emails that include sexual language or images, have your parents contact local law enforcement, or call the CyberTipline at 1-800-843-5678.
  • Do not open email attachments you did not ask for or that are from someone you don’t know or trust.

Instant Messaging

IM’ing is even faster than email. It lets you chat with others online in real time. Different chat rooms are available to talk about different topics. With instant messaging or email, you mostly use words or IM lingo to communicate. You can add emoticons to describe your feelings.

Without seeing and hearing you speak the words, the person reading your message may misinterpret what you say. A teasing remark may be interpreted as mean and hurtful.

In reality, people are sometimes not who they pretend to be on the Internet. They may lie about their age, gender and interests to gain your trust.

Don’t say anything to people online that you wouldn’t say to their face.

  • Don’t say anything to people online that you wouldn’t say to their face.
  • Don’t be a cyberbully.
  • Ask yourself, “Are the people I am chatting with really who they say they are?” How do you know?
  • Limit the lists of members/friends/contacts on these sites to people you really know in person.
  • If you receive a rude or mean message, ignore it. If you continue to receive these kind of messages, ask for help.
  • If you receive any messages that include sexual language or images, have your parents or a trusted adult contact local law enforcement or call the CyberTipline at 1-800-843-5678.


Chatrooms are useful tools for communicating with people about specific topics like a hobby or other interests.  You may want to learn how to start your own zine or how to use a specific computer application.  The possibilities are endless and communicating with other hobbyists and professionals could help you further explore your interests or launch your dreams.

89% of sexual solicitations are made in either chat rooms or instant messages. Source: www.netlingo.com (2008)

Private chat is safer than public chat, but you still have to be careful.  What if you only talk in chat or game rooms with friends you know in person?  When you are in a chat or game room, you have no way of knowing exactly who you are talking with and who else is in the “room” with you.  Someone can lurk in the “shadows” and wait for you or your friend to give up some personal information.  That lurker may then follow you to other public online spaces and continue to gather information about you, without your knowledge.

You do not know who you can trust online.  There is no such thing as an “online friend.”  Anyone that you meet online is still a stranger.  No matter how long you have been talking to someone online, you do not know who they really are.  Time does not equal trust!

Stay in charge.  Never give out personal information — name, address, telephone or cell number, private email address, pictures — even if someone asks for it.  Tell a trusted adult immediately if someone or something makes you feel scared, worried or uncomfortable.

Avoid chat rooms where people are talking about inappropriate subjects.  Sometimes the name of a chat room can be deceiving.  Once you get into the chat, you will know quickly if it is true to its name.  Get out immediately if anyone is talking about sex, hate or violence, or using obscene, rude or offensive language.

The best strategy is to always keep your online communication private, but remember, this does not mean you can share information freely.  Think before you chat.

Cell Phones: Text, Video and Picture Messaging

Teens age 13 to 17 send an average of 2,272 text messages each month; that’s almost 77 messages per day.

Cell phones have changed our lives, mostly for the better.  For many youth, life without a cell phone is unimaginable.  We can communicate with each other instantly, 24/7, from virtually anywhere.  We can take a picture or video and share it with multiple recipients.  We can access the Internet, watch television programs, download and listen to music, play video games, all in the palm of our hands.  And the technology is constantly changing and improving.  The possibilities seem endless.

Distracted Drivers

  • 25% of teens say they text while driving.
  • 48% have been a passenger when a driver texted while driving.
  • Teens say their parents are texting fanatics too.

Schools have policies forbidding cell phone use during class and other school functions.  Some schools don’t allow cell phones in the schools at all.  It is important to follow the school cell-phone-use policy because the ramifications could result in losing privileges to use your phone, losing the phone altogether or a change in the school policy that results in even more restrictions on cell phone use.Cell phones can become an addiction.  Constantly texting your friends is not healthy (plus, if you don’t have an unlimited texting plan, it can be very expensive).  Repetitive motion is never healthy.  Your brain, eyes and body need a break from the strain caused by texting.  Also, people who drive, bike, skateboard, rollerblade or walk while texting risk serious injury to themselves and others.

The ease at which cell phones allow you to act impulsively can be dangerous.  For instance, you may think it is funny to take a picture of a friend in their underwear during a sleep-over and send it to another friend.  What if that friend shares it with someone else?  Once you hit “send,” you have lost control of what happens to that image.  Creating, distributing or possessing nude or semi-nude images of anyone under the age of 18, including yourself, is called child pornography.  People go to jail for having those types of images.  (Semi-nude means a girl or boy in their underwear.)

One more thing: when taking a photo of someone else, always ask for their permission before sharing the image.

Owning a cell phone is a privilege.  Follow the rules set by your parents/guardians and school when using a cell phone.

Limit your texting.  If you find that you are constantly texting all day and night, turn off your phone for one hour, every day.  Each day, increase the time that your phone is turned off.  There is no such thing as a healthy addiction.  Remember: never text while driving or walking.  Remind your parents to be good role models if they also text while driving or walking.

Never send nude or semi-nude image of yourself or others under the age of 18 to anyone, ever.  If you receive any of these types of images, report it to a trusted adult immediately.

Never respond to a bully.  Delete or ignore the message/image/video unless you continue to receive threatening, harassing or frightening messages.  Save the files as evidence, tell a trusted adult and call your local law enforcement agency.

Stop and think before using your cell phone.

Checkout www.thatsnotcool.com for ideas on how to respond if you are the recipient of excessive text messages.

More Information

If you want to learn more about Internet safety, check out the following websites.

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