“Online safety is what worries me most!” is a concern we hear from so many parents.
If online safety is your primary goal, then it is crucial that you establish and keep supporting a strong foundation of understanding of real-world safety principles and skills. Safety skills and principles are easiest to learn and understand with “real world” examples – and then become easier to extend to online environments.
In addition, people’s online lives and off-line lives often get blended. While this separation is rigid for some people, for many others – and especially for many young people – the line between them is almost nonexistent.
Kidpower skills help prevent safety problems with people online and in person. No matter where you go – from a sidewalk to a classroom to a boardroom to a text conversation to a multiplayer video game – people have more fun and fewer problems when they know how to apply core safety principles with everyone, everywhere, online or in person.
No matter what technology you use to communicate, and no matter what new technology is created in the future, core interpersonal safety principles will stay the same. Understanding these principles will help you apply them everywhere you go, in the real world or the virtual world.
To show how safety principles stay the same even as they are applied differently in different places, we’ve provided a few brief examples. To learn more, contact us at [email protected].
MAKE A SAFETY PLAN
Everywhere you go, take a moment to make a Safety Plan. This isn’t about being paranoid – it’s about having a plan so that you can relax and have fun without worrying about what you would do if trouble started. Think about what kinds of problems are likely to come up and how you might get help if you need it.
- Real World Example: Walking downtown, is one route more isolated, while another has more people, more open stores, or more light? Which route is likely to have fewer problems? Where can you go to get help if you need it? How can you carry phones, bags, or other items so that you look aware and confident and so you aren’t advertising the fact that you are carrying something that might be interesting to steal?
- Online Example: Using your favorite social media, how can you share and participate while still protecting the information you want to keep private? If people are using words or images in a way that seems dangerous, how will you get help? Does this platform have a built-in way to get help? How effective is it? Who can you talk to in your real-world life to get help with an online problem? If you get attention online that seems dangerous or abusive, how can you save those images so you can document the problem?
UNDERSTAND THE PATTERN OF ATTACK
Whenever someone wants to bully, harass, rob, or attack another, they tend to follow a pattern of selecting a target, getting a position of advantage, dominating, and then escaping. Understanding the Pattern of Attack can help you apply your safety skills and strategies to interrupt the pattern early – or even prevent some problems from starting in the first place.
- Real World Example: An attacker wanting to steal a phone might watch lots of people moving along the sidewalk, select someone who seems unaware, move closer to get a position of advantage, dominate by punching and taking the phone, and then escape by running away.
- Online Example: An attacker wanting to steal passwords to get access to money online might join online groups to look for a target that seems vulnerable. After selecting a target, they might use conversation that seems ‘nice’ in order to build trust and intimacy. This gives them an emotional position of advantage. They might dominate by using that trust and intimacy to get access to passwords. They might escape by leaving the digital platform or deleting an account.
KNOW YOUR SAFETY STRATEGIES
To interrupt the Pattern of Attack, we can use the three types of Safety Strategies: (1) Be and Act Aware, (2) Take Charge, and (3) Get Help.
- Be and Act Aware: Awareness stops most problems before they start. People are more likely to listen to you and less likely to bother you when you project awareness, calm, and respectful confidence.
- Real World Example: Looking around at your environment rather than looking down at a phone, having a calm face and body, and moving as if you know where you are going can all project awareness. Notice people, cars, bikes, animals, and sounds around you.
- Online Example: Be aware of pop-ups and requests for personal information. Be aware if a click took you to a new webpage unexpectedly. In text and online conversations, notice changes in conversation tone and content. In multiplayer video games, notice whether others are playing respectfully or whether they are trying to irritate or harass others.
- Take Charge: Most interpersonal safety skills are Taking Charge skills, ranging from moving out of reach to setting boundaries to managing emotional triggers to using physical self-defense as a last resort in an emergency.
- Real World Example: Moving away from someone acting upset; knowing and managing your emotional triggers so they don’t rule your behavior; making a fence with your hands to create a visible boundary; setting boundaries verbally; speaking up about injustice; yelling; and leaving are just a few of the many ways people can take charge of their well-being in the face of a possible safety problem.
- Online Example: Managing privacy settings and thinking first before entering personal information are ways of taking charge online. Logging out; clicking away; signing off; texting “Going now, bye”; or moving your character to a different place in a video game are ways to move away or leave. People can set boundaries online, such as by writing, “Stop”, “I don’t want to do that.” People can advocate for others or speak up about injustice online, such as by writing, “That sounds like prejudice.”
- Get Help: At any age, powerful help-seeking skills enable people of all ages to take charge of their own safety as well as the safety of loved ones. Asking for help has been mischaracterized as a sign of weakness. The truth is that help-seeking is a sign of strength, leadership, and belief in one’s own value. The strongest leaders get help early.
- Real World Example: Identify mentors, mature friends, supervisors, counselors, trusted family members, and other adults who care about you and have the wisdom and life experience to help you, even if your own behavior was part of what started the problem in the first place.
- Online Example: Some online platforms have systems for getting help or reporting trouble. Until these systems become more reliable and responsive, know how to use them but also plan to move away from the technology and approach real-world people to address online safety problems effectively.
REMEMBER THAT MISTAKES ARE PART OF LEARNING – AND SOME MISTAKES CAN BE BIG
Sometimes, people hurt others accidentally. Or, they know what they are doing is hurtful, but they don’t realize how deeply hurtful it truly is. This has happened throughout human history, long before online communication was created. These mistakes don’t always follow the Pattern of Attack, though they sometimes might. This behavior can be destructive and cause lasting, often significant harm. Those who cause the harm should be held accountable for their actions, and everyone deserves strong awareness, taking charge, and help-seeking skills to protect themselves from these problems.
- Real World Example: Roughhousing that gets too rough; talk that falls into gossiping or ‘backstabbing’; games that result in exclusion or hurtful tricks; behavior that reflects deep-seated racism, sexism, homophobia, or other prejudice; and words, actions, gestures, or jokes that were intended one way but came across differently have caused problems between people of all ages for generations.
- Online Example: Aside from physical roughhousing example, all of the above examples happen online with words, images, and videos. Online communication lacks tone of voice, facial expression, and other tools we usually use to notice and avoid trouble and to communicate caring, so online misunderstandings can grow like wildfire and quickly become destructive. Digital tools make the hurtful impact of these mistakes much worse by making them far-reaching, long-lasting, and often public.
To protect yourself and others, Think First before speaking, acting, posting, texting, sharing, forwarding, joking, teasing, or using sarcasm online. The technology is likely to make any resulting harm deeper, farther-reaching, and longer-lasting than the harm resulting from the same type of behavior in the real world would be. Take Charge by setting boundaries, controlling distance, managing your emotional triggers, being safe with words, and getting help persistently if any kind of behavior anywhere is affecting your sense safety, well-being, and quality of life.
The best way to support online safety is to support the growth and understanding of real-world safety skills and then apply them to the specific online places we go. Again, these same safety principles apply in a mall, in an airport, at the beach, in a classroom, in a multi-player video game, in a text exchange, in a chat room, and in online environments not yet created.
The Kidpower Book for Caring Adults: Personal Safety, Self-Protection, Confidence and Advocacy for Young People provides a comprehensive guide for parents, educators, mental health professionals, public safety officials, and health care providers who want to know how to protect children and teens from bullying, violence, and abuse and to empower them with strategies and skills for taking charge of their safety and well being – both in the real world and online.