Illinois Attorney General Kids' Page
Teens using computer

The Internet can be a great way to find information on a topic of interest, a particular hobby, or a school report. Most of all, the Internet is a new way to meet people who have interests similar to yours. Unfortunately, people are not always what they seem. Even though you might think that you are self-sufficient and can identify danger, teens are more often the victims of Internet abuse than younger kids. That does not mean that teens are targeted more often, but that they are sometimes more susceptible to becoming victims. This happens most often through lapses of judgment and common sense that you should always apply while online.

1. Uncomfortable Situations. While surfing the Web, reading the news, or chatting, there is a good chance that you could run into material that might make you feel uncomfortable. When Web surfing or news reading, the simple solution is to stop and leave that particular site or newsgroup. In a chat room, if someone sends you a message that makes you feel uncomfortable, you are under no obligation to continue chatting with that person. If repeated messages are sent, you can always leave the chat area and report that person to the service administrator and your parents. If you feel comfortable informing the administrator, ask your parents for help.

2. Physical Danger. The largest online danger is providing information about yourself and where you can be located. Be careful of what you write online and to whom you provide information. When you are chatting, you cannot see who is reading your messages; you know only what they tell you, which may not be true.

3. Financial Danger. The Internet is continuously growing with Internet-only businesses; some are real businesses, while others are shady. Giving out any financial information over the Internet can expose you to many types of risk. Be sure to discuss all Internet purchases with a parent.

4. Harassment. In chat rooms, people may intentionally say uncomfortable things specifically to harass people. If you get one of these messages, do not take it personally and do not reply. Replies just encourage the person who is sending the messages. While some messages may just be annoying, others may be criminal. If you receive messages or images that are obscene, lewd, filthy, or indecent with the purpose of annoying, offending, abusing, threatening, or harassing you, report it to your Internet service provider (ISP), to your police department or sheriff's office, and to your parents.

5. Accountability For Your Behavior. While online, you should avoid doing things that might hurt people or get yourself into trouble. You must take responsibility for your actions online and off. Do not annoy, harass, offend, abuse, or threaten others while online.

6. Don't Meet Internet Friends. People online are under no obligation to tell the truth about who they are. For example, someone claiming to be a high school student may actually be a middle-aged man. If you want to meet with someone, discuss it with your parents first and never meet anyone alone.

7. Stay Informed. Keep in touch with friends at school. See what friends are doing online and what types of issues they are running into. Sometimes information about the Internet travels faster by word of mouth than on the Net itself.

This information is excerpted from Child Safety on the Information Highway by Lawrence J. Magid. It is reprinted with permission of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). Copyright NCMEC 1998. All rights reserved.