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13 Things All Kids on the Internet Need to Know
If you have a kid under 18 and on the Internet, you need this.
I’ve literally been on the Internet for decades, on social media for more than a decade, have built a Facebook page with millions of followers, run a wildly successful online business, read lots of research, and I’ve been asked by parents to counsel their teens on topics related to the Internet. My honest opinion after all of that is that kids under 18 shouldn’t be on the Internet at all without heavy supervision, but the reality is that isn’t what’s happening. Kids are being turned loose on the Internet and it’s doing a lot of damage to them. In an effort to mitigate that damage, I wanted to come up with some basic rules, suggestions, and things kids under 18 (along with their parents) need to understand about the Internet to better protect themselves.
1) Don’t write or say anything online you wouldn’t want your parents, a judge, a boss, college admissions, or the media to see. Why? Because it’s unlikely, but possible, that you might go viral for all the wrong reasons and they may actually see it. That has happened thousands of times at this point, and you don’t need to become this week’s cautionary example who has their life wrecked in the process.
2) Understand that a lot of what you’re seeing is staged. It’s very easy for people to get down on themselves or feel inferior when so much of social media seems to consist of beautiful people doing cool things, but you cannot forget that what you are looking at is a filtered, choreographed highlight reel of people’s lives. If you want a great example, you couldn’t find one much better than Instagram party legend Dan Bilzerian who posts pictures of himself looking ripped, surrounded by beautiful women in cool locations for his 33 million followers.
Of course, this is the same Dan Bilzerian who had 3 heart attacks by the age of 32 because of his out-of-control lifestyle and also posted this profound quote on Twitter:
If you ever start to feel bad because you don’t think your ordinary life matches up to what you see online, don’t forget how much of what you are seeing is stagecraft. If you could see behind the scenes, you’d come away with a far different impression.
3) Stay away from pornography. Setting aside the moral aspects of porn, it creates physiological changes in your brain that have been shown to be deeper, more damaging, and more lasting in teens than adults. Think about it like heroin. Initially, it may be fun, a stress reliever, or a time killer, but you may also still be struggling mightily to overcome it a decade later.
4) Learn to ignore. There are an infinite number of rude people, idiots, and trolls on the Internet. Don’t waste your time arguing with them and don’t treat their criticism as if it matters or has something to do with you personally, because take it from someone who has literally heard thousands of insults over the years, it doesn’t. If comments on the Internet from strangers negatively impact your mood, you need to remind yourself that you’re doing it wrong. Take these old, but true words to heart:
5) Online friends are not as important as people you know in real life. Keep in mind, I didn’t say “not important,” and you can have people you meet online who later become real-life friends and girlfriends (I certainly have), but relationships that extend into the real world are deeper and more meaningful. Online-only friendships almost inevitably turn out to be a poor substitute for the real thing. A lot of people learn this the hard way, years down the road. You don’t have to be one of them.
6) Be VERY, VERY careful about participating in fringe communities. We human beings are hardwired both to seek status and approval from groups we care about as well as maintain a consistent identity. So, when you start getting involved in fringe groups with weird values, you can end up subconsciously adopting beliefs to impress your new “friends.” Furthermore, if you are surrounded by strange people without hearing from “normies,” you can quickly lose your bearings and end up buying into extraordinarily dumb, conspiratorial, or toxic ideas that may create all kinds of problems for you when you bring your new beliefs back into the “real” world.
7) Be careful about who you take advice from. Most of the advice, analysis, and opinion you hear on the Internet is worthless because it’s offered up by people that are dumb, failures, or that are saying things just to get attention. Before you listen to anyone, it’s a good idea to ascertain whether they’re smart, successful, sane, well-meaning, and reliable sources. Quite frankly, the vast majority of people are going to fall short in one or more of those areas.
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8) Remember who you can trust the most. Unless your parents are truly abusive monsters, anyone who tries to drive a wedge between you and your parents is not someone you can trust. Your parents may not always understand the latest cultural trends or tech, but they are older, wiser, and very much on your side, which is more than you’re probably going to be able to say about anyone you meet on the Internet.
9) Be careful about what you click. Hackers and scammers never rest. Be exceedingly careful about what you download, who you give personal information to, and what links you click. Guess who had his Facebook pages hacked even though he absolutely knew better because he got lax and careless (raises hand)? Don’t make that same mistake. Keep your firewall in place, virus scanner up to date, update your patches, and the second your antenna goes up about someone, default towards, “I am being scammed” because you probably are.
10) Don’t become a character. This is a hard one because so many young Americans aspire to be influencers, but once you start trying to be a different person than you really are online, it has a tendency to spiral into letting likes and shares guide your behavior. Not only is this mentally unhealthy, it also tends to breed obsession and can cause people to end up doing things they once could have never imagined.
11) Don’t ever put naked pictures of yourself online. Once pictures of you naked get onto a computer, you’re one hacker away from having them everywhere. Worse yet, once you send them to someone else, you’re one “falling out” or “bragging session” away from those pictures ending up in the wild and potentially being seen by people all over the world. The risk isn’t worth it.
12) Pay attention to where you spend your time. It is very easy to lose track of time on the Internet or get drawn over and over into the same applications. In fact, much of the Internet is deliberately designed to create that effect, which is why you should turn off your notifications for almost everything except phone calls. I’ve never been a big gamer, but I got into Overwatch with some friends and a few months down the line, I looked at my statistics and found I had spent HUNDREDS of hours playing. I use an application called RescueTime and it’s mindblowing how much time I can accumulate on social media if I’m not paying attention. The problem with all of this is we all only have so many hours in a day to work, learn, exercise, build skills, hang out with friends, and date among other things. Video games and social media in particular? These things are ultimately low priorities, but if you don’t pay attention, they can quickly and easily monopolize your time and crowd the important things out.
13) Many people are not who they claim to be on the Internet. The Internet is full of scammers, hackers, liars, catfishes, psychopaths, and damaged people pretending to be something that they aren’t and will never be. If you ever lose sight of all of that and forget that you are in a low-trust environment, you will often pay a price for it. Hopefully, it will be small, but that’s far from a given. Along similar lines, if you meet anyone on the Internet, make sure to do it in public. Why? Because it could be a scam, they could be lying, or they could be crazy. It’s always better to find that out in public than in private.