Lesson Plan - Get It!
Michelle always feels comfortable talking with Maria. Over the weekend, they chatted continuously about how excited Michelle was about her trip to the Enchanted Forest.
This Monday, they'll get in touch again to talk about ideas for the upcoming prom. Maria has so many fashion tips, and Michelle would like help with her outfit.
These two girls chat constantly and get along really well. They have common interests and enjoy the same things. Unlike other friendships, however, they have only met twice.
- Are internet friends a good thing?
A 2018 Pew Research Center survey reported that 6 out of 10 teens spend time with their friends online every day or almost every day, and nearly 57% of all teens have made new friends online.
- While friendships are considered a healthy part of life, are there any risks to virtual interactions?
In 2016, the Center for Cyber Safety and Education conducted a Children's Internet Usage Study which revealed that 40% of kids aged 4 to 8 chat online with strangers.
This percentage is almost half of the kids surveyed!
- Does that surprise you?
- Do you find it alarming?
Chatting with Strangers
The purpose of social media and the internet, in general, is to bring people together and to provide access to a vast amount of helpful information to make our lives better.
However, the ability to access knowledge and people with a simple click also brings a number of disadvantages. If we do not properly monitor our online usage, it can become a distraction more than a useful tool. What we share online can also make us the target of online predators and scammers.
- So why do we spend so much time online chatting with strangers?
Talking with people we do not know often provides the freedom to speak without holding back or the fear of being judged. It can be easier to vent to a virtual friend.
It is important to rememeber, however, that while it is nice to have a friendly ear, you have no way of knowing who that person really is. Not everyone you meet online is honest about who they really are.
The following are a few of the reasons why chatting with a stranger online can be risky:
Catfishing is real.
Catfishing is when people pretend to be someone they are not in order to deceive others online.
Common lies include name, age, and gender. Often, catfishing is a way to intentionally target victims in order to hurt them or scam them for financial gain.
Scammers are crafty.
The internet is full of financial scams.
Some play upon our desire to follow the rules, like a scammer pretending to be a governmental agency requiring a fee be paid. Others tap into our desire to help, like a scammer asking for money to help pay a hospital bill.
Online predators may even pretend to be a real family member or friend in need of financial support.
Identity thieves are waiting.
While a scammer will try to deceive you into giving away your money, an identity thief will use your private information in order to pretend to be you and apply for loans or credit cards.
Never post your private information -- like your date of birth, full name, or social security number -- online.
Trolls are out there.
A troll is someone who posts embarassing or hurtful things without identifying themselves. Remaining anonymous provides the freedom to say or do whatever they wish without fear of being held accountable.
Sometimes, we are able to shrug these hurtful comments off, but consistent targetting by a troll can cause emotional and mental trauma.
Meeting up with a stranger.
No matter how old you are, this is the riskiest online behavior you can engage in!
No matter how great your online friendship may seem, you should always assume that meeting in person could be dangerous.
Never agree to meet somewhere private. It is best to meet in public and to bring someone you know along with you. It is better to be safe than sorry!
Online friends can be temporary.
Even if your online friend is honest and fun, there is no real-world connection to maintain the relationship.
As easy as it is to chat from the comfort of our home, it is just as easy to suddenly stop chatting with no real explanation. Once you and your friend log off, there is no guarantee you will ever talk again. You won't run into them at school or around the neighborhood.
Consider investing your time in cultivating relationships with friends you can also spend real time with.
Watch Teen Voices: Who You're Talking to Online from Common Sense Education:
Chatting with a stranger online is generally okay if you know your limitations. You can talk about things that interest you both and feel more at ease.
However, you should always avoid giving private information that could possibly be used against you in one way or another.
Keep going in the Got It? section to show how much you've learned!