As a person who spends most of his days sitting in front of a computer, I’ve gradually become the resident ‘tech support’ for most of my family and friends, and it is because of this role that it has fallen to me to teach my 12 year old nephew how to use his first tablet computer so that he can do his own research for his school homework on his own.
Previously, he’s been restricted to using his father’s laptop from time to time to Google for information, but from today onwards he will have the whole internet at his finger tips whenever and wherever he wants. Well, not quite the whole internet, I’ve ensured that various restrictions are in place which should limit what he can actually access, but these are never perfect and it’s a bit of a scary prospect to think of all the information, good and bad, and all the other stuff, he could now potentially gain access without any adult supervision in the privacy of his own bedroom.
This was something that people of my parents generation never had to think about. Information was much more limited, and it was so much harder to access, and quite frankly, the level of effort required to find certain things made it just too difficult for all but the most dedicated, until you were old enough to do it legally, if you so wished to do so. Yet, now, kids can potentially access almost anything at the click of a button or the tap of a screen, so how do you stop them from doing something that could potentially screw them up, damage their future prospects or even get them into serious trouble?
One option is to ban them from accessing the internet, but that’s both unfair, and just not feasible. There will always be friends’ houses and unsupervised computers, so they will still be able to get online whether you like it or not.
Another is to just to let them head off into cyberspace unsupervised and unhindered, while keeping your fingers crossed, and let them work things out for themselves. While it’s a strategy that a lot of parents seem to follow, that, too, is unfair. The internet has a long memory, and, in my opinion, it’s not right to let kids go out and potentially do things that could haunt them for the rest of their lives without providing them with some warnings and advice before they do it (after all, would you like the stupidest thing your did on the spur of the moment when you were a teenager to be the first thing that pops up when a prospective employer types your name into Google just to check you out?).
So, I’ve chosen to take a middle path, and provide a set of basic rules that I hope will help explain how the internet works, and what is good to do, and what isn’t, without making him scared of using the internet in the first place. This, then, is how I’ve come up with my ten rules for using the internet which I will share with him. You may agree with some, and disagree with others, or even want to add your own (and I’d be happy to hear any suggestions that you might have), but they seem to me to be a good starting point for introducing young people to the power of the internet, without being too explicit or specific about what might be out there, waiting to trip up the unwary.
Ten Rules For Using The Internet
1. The internet contains an incredible amount of stuff. Much of it is good, but some of it is very, very bad. Make sure you stick to the good bits, and don’t get drawn into the bad bits. If you want to know whether something is a good bit or a bad bit, simply ask yourself if you would be happy with anyone looking over your shoulder and seeing what you are reading or looking at. If you would not be happy with someone seeing what you are reading or looking at, then you probably should not be reading it or looking at it in the first place.
2. Never assume that anything on the internet is private. It is not. It might not always seem like it, but the internet is a public place, just like a town centre, and you should not do anything on it that you would not be happy for others to see or to know about. As a general rule, if you would not do it in your local town centre, then do not do it on the internet.
3. A very large amount of the stuff that is on the internet is untrue (or, at least, it is the opinion of other people rather than being facts – no matter how strongly they claim that they are facts). This means that you always need to use your commonsense to filter what you read, hear or see in photographs and videos. Remember that photos and videos can be edited to show very different things that they originally contained. As a result, do not uncritically believe anything you come across, and always look to back it up with additional information from a truly independent data source. This is true of life off the internet, too.
4. Just as in real life, if something seems too good to be true, it almost certainly is, so do not click on links which are offering things that seem to be too good to be true. Nothing is for free, even on the internet, and you end up paying one way or another.
5. Don’t watch videos unless you are very sure that you want to see their content. You cannot unwatch videos once you have watched them, no matter how much you would want to. The same goes for looking at pictures, you cannot unview them once you have looked at them, and they can stay in your head for a very long time.
6. Never give out your home address, name, age or phone number to anyone you have only met on the internet, and never arrange to meet anyone who you do not already know in real life. This is because people on the internet are not always who they seem or pretend to be. Similarly, never give out your personal details to people who are offering you money. This is always a scam of some description or another, and it can get you into a lot of trouble.
7. Never click on a link in an email which asks you to put in your username or password, no matter what. These are always spam, or attempts to steal your identity. Instead, if you have an account with a specific company, always visit the site directly. As a general rule, if you are in any way in doubt about the validity of an email, do not click on a link in it. Instead, ask someone else for a second opinion.
8. Never send or post someone a photograph or video of yourself that you would not be happy with everyone in the world being able to see – forever. It might seem like a bit of harmless fun at the time, but once you post something on the internet, you no longer have control over it and it is almost impossible to get it back or get it taken down. As a result, always think twice about what you post. As a general rule, if you think, ‘My parents would kill me if they ever saw this …’, then don’t post it on the internet or share it with anyone else. Better still, do not take the picture or the video in the first place!
9. Always think twice before posting, messaging or emailing anything to anyone, and never send or post anything in the spur of the moment if you are angry. Once something is sent or posted, you cannot get it back. Similarly, never post anything on the internet that you would not want everyone else to read or to know about you (now or in the future), and never post anything about someone that you would not say to their face.
10. You are allowed to have a ‘get out of jail’ free card. This means that you can call me up and say, ‘Uncle Colin, I think I have screwed up …’. As long as you are honest about it, I can help you sort it out, and no one else necessarily needs to know about it. The important thing is that if you get into an awkward situation, that you never feel that you do not have a way out of it.
From the author of For Those In Peril On The Sea, a tale of post-apocalyptic survival in a world where zombie-like infected rule the land and all the last few human survivors can do is stay on their boats and try to survive. Now available in print and as a Kindle ebook. Click here or visit www.forthoseinperil.net to find out more. To download a preview of the first three chapters, click here.
To read the Foreword Clarion Review of For Those In Peril On The Sea (where it scored five stars out of five) click here.