For Safer Internet Day, Kelly Harris, Business Development Lead for Brook’s expansion work into Wales uses her 15+ years of experience working with young people to discuss the importance of staying safe online.
The internet is a brilliant and innovative space which is constantly evolving – giving us the opportunity to meet new people from across the world, do our online shopping, binge watch Netflix shows all weekend, educate ourselves about all things sexual health and healthy relationships, and watch cute dog videos!
An exciting part of online life continues to be how we can communicate and explore new friendships and romantic relationships with people we know in ‘real life’ along with complete strangers. But my years of working with young people has taught me that the messages/images which are being shared privately rarely stay private!
These situations have a massive impact on young people’s lives, from fear/worry of family and friends seeing something private, to shame/anger/sadness at having their trust betrayed.
So what can you do to support young people to safeguard themselves online? Below are some tips you can give to young people about staying safe.
Sharing things online:
What if someone shared a photo like that of you? Before sharing a photo that someone has sent you privately, think about if someone else did that to you. How could it reflect on you and could it offend, upset or even hurt other people?
Are you prepared to lose control? When you share things online, you can quickly lose control of it – even if you only sent it to one person. Even if you manage to get the message/image taken down – someone else might have taken a screenshot which they will then share. It’s also important to be aware that it can be really difficult to get messages taken down. N.B. If it is a sexual photo/video of someone under 18, this is illegal so it will be taken down as soon as it is reported and dealt with by the police.
Are you giving too much away information? If you have an open social media account and share an image of you and your friends where people can clearly see your school uniform, you have just told the world where you are based for 80% of your week. This type of information can make you easy to locate by people online, so be savvy – crop out/draw over any identifying information you are sharing. Protect yourself.
What if the world saw it? Before you share something, imagine it on a billboard in your town where everyone (including your Nan!) could see it. How would you feel if everyone you know could see it? If that thought makes you feel uncomfortable that is a good sign that you shouldn’t share it.
Are you being pressured into sending sexual messages or images (sexting)?
In a world where young people tell me that sexting is part of everyday life, I always make sure young people understand it is their choice whether to share a message/image and they can say NO.
In a healthy relationship you should never be pressured into doing anything you don’t want to, and if you are being forced to do something which is making you sad/uncomfortable/worried, speak to an adult you trust and they will be able to help you.
Meeting someone from online in real life:
Meeting people on the internet via chat rooms, gaming or dating apps is part of day-to-day life for many young people. But it’s important to remind them to always keep your personal information private because you never know if the person you have met online is who they say they are.
Tell a friend/family member when and where you will be. It is important that someone knows where you are going to be in case something happens or you need help. Make sure you don’t switch location at the last minute and forget to tell someone!
Arrange for your friend/family to ring you. Get someone to ring you during the meet up so they can check that you are ok. You could have a code word/phrase which you can say if you are feeling uncomfortable, need help or you just aren’t enjoying yourself and want to leave!
Suggest that you both bring a friend along for the first meeting. This can help to take the pressure off meeting someone for the first time as you’ll have someone you know there to support you and ease your nerves!
Meet in a public place. I always stress the importance of making sure there are plenty of people around, just in case you start to feel uncomfortable and need help.
Digital technology can create amazing communities with plenty of opportunities to explore and meet people, and we need to accept that young people are and will continue to use it.
At Brook, we want all children and young people to be provided with inclusive and comprehensive RSE and health education that helps them to develop a sense of self-respect and mutual respect.
They should be given an understanding of the law, of consent, and of everyone’s right to privacy and safety so that they can be good digital citizens, and develop healthy bystander behaviour and supportive online communities.