The Most Common Errors Kids (And Others) Make Online

Want to have an interesting conversation with your kids? Read aloud this column, and ask them their opinions. It’s fine if they disagree – the point is to have the conversation, and plant some seeds! Below you’ll find six of the most common reasons that kids get into trouble online – notice that none of these are “technical” issues at all.

Error Type 1: No one will ever see this, because I’m posting it on a “private” profile or account; or I’m sending it to only one person.

The myth: Half of the teens I study still believe that if something is posted on a “private” profile, that means it can’t be copied and sent to anyone at all. This is completely untrue. Photos and text can be copied by anyone – it only takes one person to copy and send out information, and then it’s out there for everyone to see.

Error Type 2: No one will ever see this, because no one will notice, care or be interested.

The myth: No one will notice what I do; there’s 50 million kids on the internet; I’m part of such a huge crowd that no one will ever see or care. The truth is that it’s impossible to predict what people will, or won’t, find interesting. If you’re posting or sending it, you’re doing that because someone actually will find it interesting! If one person is interested, others will be too.

Error Type 3: The person I’m sending this to would never show it to anyone else.

The myth: Your friends are only thinking of you when they consider whether to send on a juicy photo or piece of gossip. Actually, data suggests that they often forget about the impact on you and instead, focus only on how they will look. Will forwarding this make them look funny, popular, or interesting? They may genuinely care about you and mean you no harm; but it’s easy to forget about something’s impact on others when you’re in a digital environment and they’re not in front of you.

Error Type 4: I’m well-liked and popular, so no one would ever try to harm me online.

The myth: Your social status will follow you into cyber-space, right? Wrong. On the Internet, power and social status can fluctuate wildly. You need to be careful about what you expose about yourself online, because you cannot predict who might take that information and use it.

Error Type 5: It’s a funny picture; if my friend is a good friend, she won’t mind if I post it.

The myth: That your friends will always understand that your posting that very embarrassing photo of them is just a way for you to look funny or cool. You may only be thinking of how you’re looking, but they’re thinking about how they’re looking! It’s never ok to post a photo of another person without their permission, unless it’s clearly a public situation (like a group shot) and reasonably flattering (nothing obscene or embarrassing). When in doubt, ASK.

Error Type 6: I’m upset, and it’s important for me to express my feelings, or to get support from my friends. So I’ll tweet them what I’m thinking and feeling.

The myth: Expressing your feelings is always better, right? Actually, the answer is “no” almost as often as it’s “yes.” And if it’s a situation where you really need support or you really need to vent, then if you go ahead and do that, don’t do it electronically. Posting and sending your anger commits you to that position; it makes it harder to take back things you don’t mean and wish you hadn’t said. It can also escalate the problem; you might not be mad by the next day, but someone else, reading your post a week later, might get really mad, and start the whole problem over again. Being mad or upset is one time when it’s better NOT to go digital!

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