So you want to meet up with someone you met online… Taking the Stranger Danger discussion to the next level

By Ben Halpert, Founder Savvy Cyber Kids, an EarthLink partner

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Today’s children are considered ‘Digital Natives’ because they were literally born into a world defined by technology, but are actually “Digital Naives.” Without intervention, children completely lack an understanding of the implications of their digital actions.

We tell kids that they should NEVER meet-up with a person they met online and that someone you don’t know in real life is ALWAYS a stranger (because you can’t confirm who they really are). But, let’s face it, the internet is about making connections.

From dating sites to Craigslist and special interest chat groups, adults regularly make online connections that turn into physical world connections. At some point, children will have legitimate reasons to make these connections too. Even if that some point is when they go off to college, the adults in children’s lives need to model behavior that ensures safety in the digital world. Here are tips for staying safe when meeting and talking to unknown people online.

While you can never guarantee anything you do will keep you 100 percent safe, there are certain precautions you should consider if you really want to meet up with someone you met via tech.

  • Ask them to Facetime, use Google Hangouts, or another social media app with live chat. If they refuse or can’t for some reason, ask them to send you a selfie with something that shows the day’s date and time. If they also refuse to do this or can’t send a selfie, do not meet up with them! Ask yourself, why would they be refusing to prove who they really are?

But is this enough to keep you safe? Unfortunately not.

Woman charged in DeKalb dating app murder to face judge

The details of this story are disheartening. After they met online, they spoke on the phone and they live streamed. He verified it was really her before agreeing to meet-up in real life. And he brought someone with him for extra safety. And despite these precautions, he is now dead because he met up with a stranger he met online.

So let’s add the most important safety tip….

  • When you arrange to meet-up NEVER go alone and be sure to meet-up in a PUBLIC PLACE.
  • Tell the person that “I’m bringing along my friend (or insert name of trusted adult) too. Just giving you a heads-up! If you are as paranoid as me and you have someone coming too, they could sit together!”

If you are under the age of 18, these are not merely suggestions. You MUST bring a trusted adult with you IF this trusted adult APPROVES of the meet-up.

If any of your plans are not accepted by your “new online friend”, STOP COMMUNICATING. Time to go into BLOCK mode on your accounts for this “person.”

There is one TRUTH you need to remember. Parents, teach your children this! When meeting and talking to unknown people online, your safety and comfort should be important to them. It will be important to any good person you meet online who wants to meet up IRL.

The reality is that it’s a dangerous world out there. Even following these tips cannot guarantee your safety.

Don’t be the next headline. Talk to the trusted adults in your life, use good judgement and stay safe out there.

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Savvy Cyber Kids educates and empowers digital citizens, from parents and grandparents, to teachers and students. Sign up for their free resources to help you navigate today’s digital world with cyber ethics.


The Real You Vs Social Media You: How Social Media Is Shaping People’s Perception Of You

By Ben Halpert, Founder Savvy Cyber Kids, an EarthLink partner

It’s a new year and time for a NEW YOU, right? A little introspection in the new year can be a helpful and healthful approach to making positive changes in your life. Maybe you are taking some time to take stock of the past and to make plans for the future. As you go through this process, don’t forget to take a moment and scroll back on your social media accounts. Do you recognize yourself from your posts? Is your social media persona a true representation of you? Is it your best self? Or sometimes maybe not the self you would want to impress others with?

WHO ARE YOU ONLINE?

Make no mistake, your social media presence is curated by you. What you choose to write about, the pictures you choose to share and the comments you decide to post are all choices. Put together, these words and images form a representation of you, an impression that is absorbed and judged by others.

Intention aside, there is no argument that your social media persona shapes how people regard you and impacts the ways they treat you in real life — for better or for worse.

As a society, we spend a lot of time creating and maintaining our online presence. According to Statista, today’s global internet users spend on average 135 minutes per day on social media, with a steady growth from 90 minutes per day in 2012.

We may not think of it this way, but our time on Facebook, Instagram and any other social media platform is about more than staying in touch with friends and family. Yes, we expand our social networks thanks to social media. But, our investment into our social media profiles is, above all, about our efforts to create and define our personal brand. Until you recognize that you curate your personal brand (positive or negative) with each post, you may not be making the best decisions online.

DO YOU CARE TOO MUCH?

So, once we admit to ourselves that what we post on our social media profiles is no accident and that, consciously and unconsciously, we post what we want to represent about ourselves to our family, peers and friends, then we can explore why we post what we post. No doubt, perception is entirely subjective. How people see a picture and feel about a comment can widely vary. But when we create our self-portrait online, we are heavily influenced by what we think our ideal self should be and how we think others will view a picture or feel about a comment.

This is a lot of pressure. That’s 135 minutes per day, 15+ hours per week, 63+ hours per month and 756+ hours per year that you spend stuck in an internal conversation with yourself, debating, maybe agonizing, about the impression you are making on others and linking your self-worth to likes and other online affirmations of your worth.

Maybe we can’t help ourselves. After all, our human nature is driven by competition. Whether we compete to earn money, do good or surround ourselves with love, it is still a competition defined by achievement and status.

So, if you spend time on social media then the best thing you can do for yourself is to acknowledge this pressure to achieve and to always represent your best self and make sure that this pressure is not turning your time on social media into a whipping stone that makes you feel badly about yourself.

Here are Savvy Cyber Kids’ social media tips for the New Year:

• Don’t compare yourself to others. Remember, that’s their carefully curated self you are viewing. What’s the point of comparing yourself to someone whose profile is an exaggeration of real life?

• Be you. By representing your individual and honest self, you will not only be more authentic, you will be expressing some self-love for your uniqueness. You won’t be holding yourself up to anyone else’s standards and you can let the pressure of social media perfection go.

• Acknowledge what you are competing for and make that your reality. Instead of spending time creating an identity that matches what and who you want to be, invest that time into making it happen for you in real life.

• Take a break from your online life. Periodically, give yourself time and space to unplug and cultivate your life off the screen — just for fun! Remember, when you are “spending” time on social media, you are giving up time for everything else!

If you make these changes, the natural outcome is that you will be more honest, more real and more likable online. People will know you better and they will know the REAL YOU.

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Savvy Cyber Kids educates and empowers digital citizens, from parents and grandparents, to teachers and students. Sign up for their free resources to help you navigate today’s digital world with cyber ethics.