I’m pulling my Aunty Suger hat firmly on today after watching some friends and friends of friends struggle. How do you talk to your teenagers or pre-teens about being online? I want to give you something you can plonk in front of them, about social media, safety online and those things that might seem a wee bit foreign to you as their parent. Heck, maybe they’ll listen to me.

I haven’t been a teenager in over a decade; there are things I am probably missing, but what I do know is that there’s a whole world of pressure out there for these kids. Be sexy, be smart, be strong, be healthy, be responsible, be a kid for as long as you can. Plus there’s the whole being a teenager, and you’re going nuts thing to contend with. This person likes me, this one doesn’t, someone I thought was my friend isn’t, then they are again. It’s tough.

You can’t stop them going through this. These kids are going to grow up on the internet like no generation before them. Including mine. You need to be sensible and know what you’re up against. Get online and on these platforms so you at least know the ins and outs of them. Let your kid know that while you have no plans of snooping in their business, BUT you reserve the right to call an audit of their social media if you have a genuine concern. And not a solo look either, they’d need to be there too. Give them some privacy people.

But mostly you have to hope like hell you raised a good kid and have their back.

Until then it’s time for Aunty Suger to dish some advice. Let’s do this thing, hand me over to the teenager, we are going to have words.

1. You are not anonymous no matter what you think.

If there’s one thing that can get you in trouble, it is the idea that you can hide online. But you can’t. No matter what lengths you take to be anonymous online there is someone who can find out who you are. Why is this important? Because creating fake accounts to interact with people as some sort of roleplay, it’s awesome to not be me right now thing, hardly ever (ok never) ends well.

There are those who will use it to bully and harass others online. This is illegal, by the way, not to mention stupid and mean. Is that how you want to conduct yourself? If you are using the internet to be a jerk, you are doing it wrong. Trolling people online has real consequences. Look it up and get a life.

On the other side of the coin are the people who use it to meet people. My question is why do you feel the need to hide who you are? I’m going to guess it’s so you can pretend to be someone else. Someone better, prettier, smarter… Well, stop doing that. It doesn’t feel like it now but who you are is more than enough.

2. What you say and do will live on. Forever.

I want to extend on the items from above and remind you that the things you do online are there forever. F.O.R.E.V.E.R. Forever. Foooooooreveeeeeeer. I’m just going to wait here a minute while that sinks in. So those photos, the things you say, the record of every step of your life will be there for decades to come. And that’s a good thing when it comes to documenting your life.

Not so great if you make bad choices.

And teenagers, well your brains are still developing and things like that, so bad choices is kinda just what happens when you’re a teenager. You should accept that now, actually bad choices are kind of the point. BUUUUT do you want those bad choices documented for decades to come? This is where you need to really think before you post something or allow other people to post things about you. More and more the places you will hope to work at some day are checking up on you via the internet. What are they going to find about you?

While we are on the whole forever thing, I wanted to talk about sending junk shots or nudes. My policy has always been don’t, but I am well aware of the pressure out there to do it. So if the don’t think doesn’t appeal to you, consider that even if you trust the person you are sending it to now, that might not always be the case. Not only that but you never really know who is on the other end of your message. Ok with the world seeing your bits? Okie dokie, carry on.

3. Things can get out of hand when not communicating in person.

As an adult I find this happens to me more often than I’d like… The old ‘that escalated quickly’ type misunderstanding caused by tone being REALLY hard to convey online. One minute you’re talking to a friend, the next minute you’re in a stand-off over something they’ve said. Or you said. Or both. It’s confusing, frustrating and it rarely gets sorted out with more texting, typing or chatting.

If you find yourself in an argument with a friend and it’s just getting worse you need to stop and either give them a call or wait until you can talk to them face-to-face. When you type, it’s difficult to express how you feel and misunderstandings are easy enough to fall into. Protect yourself by knowing that when things have gone pear-shape you probably won’t be able to fix it via an inbox.

I have a few tips for communicating online so that people get where you are coming from and I’m going to pass them on to you. Firstly sarcasm does not ever convey when written down. Neither do little digs or in-jokes that can’t be delivered with a certain tone of voice or expression. And secondly if you are emotional whether it be sad, angry, frustrated or plain old have a crazy day, don’t post straight away. Nothing makes a situation worse than a frustrated ‘gosh, some people!’ as your status when having a misunderstanding with a friend. They can see it. Use some restraint. Do you have any of that in your teeny tiny teenage brain?

HA. See? Too far, that came off as mean, right? Watch yourself.

4. It doesn’t take much to work out where you live, and that’s creepy.

I heard a story once, maybe it’s an urban legend type made to scare us internet users, but let’s go with it anyway, about a girl. A girl who posted a photo of herself with the bundle of cash her family had procured for their overseas vacation. She posted it to Instagram and via there to facebook. The house was robbed that night or shortly after and the money was stolen. Police blame the photograph for alerting the thieves to the money in the house, resulting in it being stolen.

My point? This was not the smartest move ever, but that girl probably assumed that no-one knew where she lived. Or those that did know would never do something like that. That’s the problem, you just don’t know. When you check in online, when you geo-tag (whether you are aware that you are doing it or not) people can find you. Ever checked in at home? EVER? Someone with enough motive to go looking knows where you live.

I don’t say that to freak you out as much to say you need to be more careful. Never check in at home, your friend’s house, your school, sporting clubs or other activities by using geo-tag. Anyone, anytime can find you. You might not even know that information is there unless you specifically checked. I recommend turning it off. It’s in settings under location services for iPhones. You other lot are on your own.

5. Real friends don’t mock or pressure you on social media.

You will learn (I know, I hated when people said that to me too) that people in high school are, for the most part, just people you knew in high school. Some will be your friends forever, some will drift off over time and others will be gone from the second you graduate. And you WILL be surprised by which is which, I know I was. I mention that because the people who are your true friends would never make you do something you weren’t comfortable with.

They might give you heaps, challenge and push you, but when you give your final no, they will accept it and move on. They will not mock you, shame you or call you out online. Real friends have your back and for most of us that will mean less than a handful of people who qualify. Remember that time you are being pushed to do something you don’t want to do online.

I know, I know, easier said than done. School is tough without people to call friends but you deserve to feel safe and heard by ‘your people’. Being able to stand up for that is something that will mean life just goes better for you. Get a bit of an attitude about it. Defend that with all you have. Then it won’t feel so much like you are alone but that you’re standing for something. The right people will still be there, the others will just fall away.

6. Bonus! Nope, still not anonymous, don’t forget.

Yup. I was serious about that. You will never, ever, ever truly be anonymous online, so behave like your Mum, grandparents and future boss are watching… Because, errr, they are. Happy interwebs surfing kids.

Questions? Did I miss something important? Tell me YOUR best tip for the youngsters. 

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