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Childhood Wellness

Online Safety Tips for Teens Straight from the Source

Photo: Courtesy of Blake Barlow

Kirtana Choragudi

2016-2017 SADD National Student of the Year, Freshman at the University of Michigan

We talked with this year’s National Student of the Year for Student Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) about protecting your child’s privacy online.

As a student, what do you think the best way is for parents to monitor their children and teens online, while still respecting their privacy?

It’s incredibly important for parents to develop and maintain open and honest relationships with their kids. This type of relationship allows for productive conversations on cyber-safety throughout a child’s development, so that if they encounter an uncomfortable online situation, they will be more apt to share that experience with their parents or guardians. Although children and teens may be resistant to having their parents follow them on social media, I think it’s important for parents to push for that. There may be much more going on in the youth’s life than they’re leading on, and parents should be seeing things through that lens to ensure their safety.

What’s one piece of advice you have received from an adult regarding cyber safety that has helped you?

With regards to posting things online, I once received advice from a wise SADD alumni to never post things that I wouldn’t want my grandparents to see. Basically, the internet never forgets. Even if you delete something, it could still be living in a screenshot or shared post elsewhere. Another great piece of advice is to be incredibly wary of sharing your location in posts because this allows for potential predators to track your location.

What should parents be aware of when allowing their children to go online?

Parents should be aware of what sites their kids are visiting and what social media channels their kids frequent most. They should also ask their child or teen if they are being contacted at all by strangers. Anyone who has Facebook or Instagram knows that random people may request to add or follow you — whether it’s innocent or not, parents should check in with their kids just in case this is happening more frequently. There are privacy settings on each platform to prevent this.

Another point for parents to note: there has recently been an increase in the creation of personal “fake Instagram” or “Finsta” accounts. These accounts are generally followed by only the user’s closer friends, and will have posts that range from long rants of frustration about various aspects of the user’s life, to inappropriate or unprofessional photos that the user would not want all of their regular Instagram followers to see. Although most of these accounts are indeed harmless, whatever is put into the online world can never truly be taken back. Along with the chance these accounts may offer extremely personal information to online predators, they can also negatively affect one’s professional career later in life.

What is one positive change you hope to see in the online community?

I hope to see a decrease in cyberbullying. Being online offers people a sense of anonymity, which protects them from seeing the very real-life consequences their words can have on real people. Cyberbullying is a huge issue, and hopefully increasing awareness will cause people to think about real-life consequences before posting negative material online. This past prom season, SADD teamed up with Prom Girl — an international online retailer of prom dresses and apparel — for a fashion show featuring SADD students and a SADD Facebook Live Chat on teens lifting other teens up around prom season. A big part of this was how teens interact with each other online during this time. A simple comment on a picture telling someone thing they look beautiful or handsome can mean more than you think. Kindness is always the best option.

Personally, what do you believe is the best way for children and young adults to protect themselves online?

The best way for children and young adults to protect themselves online is to limit interaction with anyone that you don’t know well, along with making full use of the large range of privacy settings available on most forms of social media. Predators are typically always people that the victim has interacted with in some way, even if innocent at first, so being especially cautious of who you choose to interact with is important.

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