5 Things You Need to Know About What You’re Doing Online

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Computers, smart phones, televisions, tablets…how much of your life is spent plugged in?

If you’re like most teens, the answer is: practically every waking minute you’re outside of school. A new study from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that those ages 8 to 18 spend more than seven and a half hours a day with such devices!

Plugging in is so much a part of our daily reality that it be easy to forget that what happens online – the good, the bad, the ugly – can impact just about every aspect of your life. We know you’ve probably been reminded that stranger danger includes your world online, but there’s more to making smart choices about your online presence than staying out of chat rooms.

Here are our top 5 things you need to know about what you’re doing online:

Forever Means Forever: Once something is uploaded to the cyberspace gods, it’s there…forever. Photos of you in compromising situations, foul-mouthed rants posted on your blog about a teacher, boss, or friend who did wrong by you – basically anything that might paint you in a less-than-flattering light? Put them online and they will stay there, likely for all eternity. Before you post something online, always ask yourself, am I okay with the world seeing this fifty years from now?

Consider the Picture: They say a picture says a thousand words, but if you’re posting or texting any sort of sexual image – whether it be you or a friend clad in scanty clothing or a nude pic of a sexual body part or someone in a sexual act – the consequences can be very serious. If you or the people posting such compromising pictures are under the age of 18, the law sees the photos as child pornography. And while many roll their eyes at such a label, especially if the photos are shared between teens in a relationship, the legal ramifications – which could include anything from fines to a permanent record or a lifetime of having to register as a sex offender – are the same.

All Eyes on You: With job opportunities for teens harder and harder to come by and the competition for college admissions, let alone valuable scholarships and grants, becoming plain old ruthless, many prospective employers and college admission officers are turning to the Internet to help them narrow down their pool of candidates. A brand new survey from Kaplan Test Prep found that nearly a quarter of colleges and universities they surveyed have gone on applicants’ Facebook and other social networking pages to learn more about them. 20% said they Googled prospective students for the same reason. 12% said that what they discovered – from plagiarism and vulgarities in blogs to pics of underage drinking and other illegal activities – negatively impacted the applicants’  chances of getting into their school.

Privacy is Key: This might seem like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised at how many people unwittingly dole out confidential information without giving it a second thought, especially if they’re creating a login for a website or chatting with a friend on Facebook. So just to clear things up, the following are things you should never give out online: full name, home address, phone number, social security number, any of your passwords or pin numbers, credit card numbers, the name of your school, and the names of your family members. If you’re involved in any kind of chatroom, web experts recommend you don’t divulge your gender and that you use a nickname that doesn’t provide any details about how old you are or where you live and is also different from your screen name. To read a true story about how one little six-word instant message changed one teen’s life forever, pick up a copy of Alexis: My True Story of Being Seduced By An Online Predator, a memoir written by 19-year-old Alexis Singer.

Too Much Can Be a Bad Thing: We’re not just talking about spending too much time online or in front of a screen here. Researchers at Stony Brook University have actually found a connection between the amount of time spent on Facebook and other social networking sites and anxiety and depression. Granted, the study specifically looked at the side-effects of using Facebook, blogging, and texting to obsess about personal problems, which can prevent them from dealing with their issues in a constructive way. Dr. Joanne Davila who ran the study, said in an interview with the Daily Mail: “Texting, instant messaging and social networking make it very easy for adolescents to become even more anxious, which can lead to depression.”

Have you ever had an online situation negatively impact you? What happened and what would you do differently today?




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