On the internet, anything seems possible. You could post a video of yourself dancing and be offered a soft drink ad. You can see pictures of your childhood home in another city or watch a movie with friends while staying home. There is almost nothing you can’t do online. And that is what makes the web potentially dangerous. It is best to be very careful.

For some of us who are introverts, making friends online seems like an easy solution. But is it? Unless the person on the other side of your computer screen is a friend, you will never really know who is chatting with you or even recording your conversations.

Behind the screen

It’s easy to create a fake online identity. Be very careful because some people are experts at winning a person’s trust and leading them to do things that they wouldn’t otherwise. The golden rule for the internet is to make sure that you know people in real life before you start interacting with them online.

If anyone asks you to keep your chats “secret”, that should ring an alarm.

Don’t ever meet anyone you don’t know in real life. Also, don’t share personal details such as your home address. You don’t want anyone harassing you or your family. A friend’s son got trapped in a drug racket when someone he met online promised him a new cell phone. The poor kid and his family were harassed for months and had to keep going to the cybercrime cell.

You’ve heard of spam emails, right? These emails often pop up from people or addresses you don’t know. Make sure to never click on an email from an unknown address. Even if the offer to click and the curiosity of finding out what’s in store is unbearable, remember that clicking on the email can allow hackers to steal important information from your computer.

Sometimes you may also be subject to indecent or violent pictures that can be very unsettling. If this ever happens to you, please tell your parents immediately.

Dangers of cyberspace

What you put out on your social media accounts is absolutely your choice. It is a reflection of your
personality, sense of humour, choices and language. Do you know that if you put out a photograph, it takes someone just a second to take a screenshot of the picture? This is true for videos too. Recordings can be made without your knowledge. What seemed like a good idea when you were in a great mood could become an embarrassment later. So, don’t send messages or videos that you will regret later.

What you need to remember is that if someone online is pushing you to do something you shouldn’t, it’s called cyberbullying and it is a punishable crime. Photo-sharing platforms like Instagram and Facebook are a great way to share your life with friends, but you aren’t allowed to do that till you are 13 years old. And it’s best to follow the rules.

Virtual, not real

Talking to someone in real life and texting are two very different things. When you are with someone,
they can see your expressions, body language, what someone else said before you, etc. When the same
thing is written down, it can look so different. What you text and to who you text is important. A casual text can be used out of context by someone who wants to create a problem between you and your friends. A simple photograph can be Photoshopped easily to look like something you never intended.

The sensible thing to do is to keep it real. Our phones and computers are a part of our life, but they cannot replace having a meal, getting a hug or spending quality time with family and friends. Do not mistake the web to be that place.

Real Dangers

As we all know, the internet isn’t the only unsafe place. The real world can be dangerous as well. You know the rules. They have been repeated to you a dozen times, but you need to be very careful. Pranksters often use the ploy of saying that your father or mother has had an accident, to take you elsewhere. These are common ways to lure you out of your comfort area to make you do something you don’t want to do.

It may sound dramatic, but it could even be to kidnap you. These situations don’t just happen in movies or to someone else. They are very real. Any harm to you will not just hurt you but also your entire family – your parents, siblings, grandparents, and even your extended family. So, please be wary of strangers.

Please do not go in dark spaces alone, even if you are playing hide and seek. Always ensure that you are accompanied by an adult when you need to visit a public restroom or other public space.

Off- limits

There are some people who you MUST watch out for. These could be friends of your parents, an uncle, a teacher or even an older cousin. They may try to show extra affection and make you feel special. It could be in the form of compliments, the way they look at you or even the way their hand accidentally brushes you.

Let this alarm you very seriously. Anything that bothers you even slightly must be discussed with your parents. Let no one make you think it’s okay to touch you, make you change in front of them or take you to a lonely spot. The responsibility for the actions they take or are trying to make you take will always be theirs. They are adults and know better. The blame will never be on you. Make sure to tell this person firmly that you know what they are trying to do, that you won’t be a part of it and will report it to your parents or school. Do this at the very beginning, before they involve you in something that makes you uncomfortable. There are extremely strict laws about an adult trying to touch or take advantage of anyone under the age of 18, including imprisonment.

What’s Up With Me?

Excerpted with permission from What’s Up With Me?: Puberty, Periods, Pimples, People, Problems and More, Tisca Chopra, Red Panda.