Everybody says things they’re embarrassed about later on. It’s human nature. Particularly embarrassing can be the revelations of elderly relatives, at family gatherings, about what one said in childhood. Imagine how bad it would be if they could pull out a sheet of paper which had everything you said written down, word for word, as proof! Of course, in the age of the internet, that might just be possible.
People tend to think of talking online as being just like talking in person – but there is, of course, one crucial difference. Everything you say online will potentially be stored. It can remain in existence for an unguessable amount of time and can be accessed by any number of people. Even conversations in private chat rooms are accessible to administrators, and you’ve know way of knowing what may happen to those logs in the future.
Even if you, as an adult, are pretty sure that most of what you have to say for yourself now will still seem reasonable in twenty years’ time, do you think your kids will feel the same way about their conversations? Parents’ online safety tips should include discussing this with kids to help them understand the permanence of what they say online, and its potential consequences. The internet is not a diary and cannot be hidden away when it becomes awkward. If your daughter confesses to a stranger about her secret crush on a boy at school, how’s she going to feel if other kids from her school come across the discussion months later and manage to identify her?
Kids need to be aware that what they say online may go down on their permanent record. For this, they really need to be able to draw on the greater life experience of their parents. Online safety tips should always include advice about privacy and thinking in the long term. Online safety isn’t just about protecting kids from other people – it’s about protecting them from themselves.