Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Danger! Teenagers online!

It seems social networkers are getting younger. A recent survey for BBC Newsround suggests that over three-quarters of children aged 10-12 in the UK have signed up to social media such as Facebook+, WhatsApp, Snapchat and Instagram.

These tots now join the ever-growing number of teens already accessing the web on a regular basis. According to Pew Research Centre, 92% of US teens go online each day, while 24% are online almost constantly.

It’s not hard to understand why. With instant information at their fingertips, the ability to follow every detail of favourite celebrity lifestyles, and a whole world of (seemingly) like-minded people to befriend, no wonder so many teens spend so much time on the internet.

Which makes them extremely vulnerable to unsavoury content and manipulative people.

An article in Better Homes and Gardens explained: “The Internet is a bustling frontier where brilliant pioneers hawk the latest information; but paedophiles, scam artists, bigots, and other unsavoury characters wander cyberspace too.”

As youths like Javier* have discovered: “Some Web sites are shocking. They can pop up without warning and are trying to pull you in. They want to entice you—to get your money.” John*, another teenager, admits: “Once you start looking at improper material, it’s hard to stop—it’s so addictive.”

One major problem of the internet is that users feel free to browse at leisure in privacy. However, lack of supervision, especially for guileless teens (and younger children!), is incredibly dangerous. Not only are they prey to a sewer of morally corrupt material, but also to radical and persuasive ideologies. It’s human nature to be curious, a quality that can so easily be exploited by unscrupulous predators.

Although some websites give warning of ‘sensitive’ material, many more can seem quite innocent, drawing in vulnerable young victims before they realise what they’re viewing. Even if they close the site instantly, any offensive images are imprinted in the brain, causing anxiety and feelings of shame. Worse still, such images are designed to lure people into the site—and, once hooked, the victim may return again and again, forming a habit that’s difficult to break. Viewing pornography can soon become a pattern.
Chat rooms also present challenges. Writer Leah Rozen observed: “Techno-savvy teenagers are spending hours chatting online with anonymous strangers all over the country and even the world. Unfortunately, some of those strangers with whom teens may be talking online also happen to be adult perverts looking for sexual trysts with kids.” Even with their peers, there’s always a danger for teens from strangers who have no moral boundaries - researchers have found much of the chat room conversation focuses on sexual issues.
Popular Mechanics warned that “you have to be extremely careful” when using public chat rooms. Giving out your name or address to total strangers is just asking for trouble!
Advice for Teens: Protect yourself

Keep online devices in the living room or other well-used areas and only go online when others are at home. Maybe you feel your parents are too strict, but any boundaries they set are for YOUR protection - because they love you - so cooperate.

Beware dodgy links, blogs, sites or ‘friends’ who want to manipulate or corrupt you. If you DO stumble onto anything unwholesome or disturbing, close the site down immediately – or even get offline! Don’t allow nasty, sick images to linger in your head and NEVER let curiosity get the better of you! Pornography is highly addictive and can actually change your brain!
If you’ve already been hooked by porn, violence or other disturbing websites, speak to someone who cares about you, a mature friend or family member who will help and advise you.
DO NOT allow anyone to manipulate you, groom you, intimidate you, make you uncomfortable or mess with your head. Remember, not everyone you meet online may be the person you think they are. That cool, good-looking 18-year old may be a lot older (and uglier) than you think! Never EVER give out your address or other contact details no matter how 'nice' your chatty new friend may seem!
Browsing aimlessly can be one of life’s biggest time-wasters, so schedule the time you spend online - and stick to it—no matter how absorbed you become. This applies not only to social media and chat rooms, but also emails! Countless messages can eat into other important activities, such as homework and studies.
Never let virtual communication take the place of face to face contact with the people who matter most – family and friends.

+BBC News has reported that paedophiles are using Facebook to swap images. NEVER agree to 'meet' anyone in a secret 'room' while visiting this site. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-35521068
*Names have been changed
See also https://www.jw.org/en/bible-teachings/family/teenagers/whiteboard-animations/social-network-smart/

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