Teenagers have been called “digital natives” – people who were born into the Internet age and adopt technology readily. They are adept at juggling a seemingly never-ending parade of apps and social networking sites: Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Foursquare, Twitter, Spotify – the list goes on. But how many are actually thinking about Internet safety? Do they use privacy measures like stronger passwords and avoiding apps that reveal one’s location? beijingkids spoke with four students from The International School of Beijing to find out.
Hal Jin, 15, China/Canada, has been living in Beijing for seven years
Natasha Torrens, 15, US, has been living in Beijing for nine months
Amanda Song, 17, US, has been living in Beijing for four years
Kevin Liao, 15, Taiwan/Australia, has been living in Beijing for eight years
What are the top three websites you spend time on?
Hal: Hotmail, Google, and Wikipedia.
Kevin: Google, [tech news site]The Verge, and The Economist.
Amanda: Mine would be Google, Gmail, and Wikipedia.
Natasha: Probably Yahoo! Mail, Facebook, and [humor website]Cracked.com.
How much do actually think about Internet safety when you’re online?
Natasha: I use the same password for everything. I’ll usually add a different number at the end, but the problem with changing it every time is that I’m likely to forget it.
Kevin: I’m more concerned with privacy than safety. If you have enough common sense, you won’t get abused on the Internet. These days, it’s more about who owns your data.
Amanda: There’s a noticeable difference between what we learn at school and what I actually do when I’m on the Internet. They’re two different worlds for me.
Hal: I don’t think about Internet safety at all, which is probably a bad thing. I don’t really think that there’s anything people can garner from the information I send online; I have enough common sense to avoid phishing scams and Nigerian princes asking for your bank account.
We now live in an age where everything you post has the potential to come back and embarrass you. Are you careful about the pictures you post online?
Kevin: When I was in middle school, I obviously wasn’t. But now, when you look back at everything you’ve done over the past few years on Facebook, you think “Wow, some of the stuff I said sounds stupid.” It helps me think twice when I post on Facebook, because it’s up there forever.
Amanda: You read all this advice on how to craft an attractive persona online for people who might want to [look you up]for jobs or schools. It’s important to think about [what you post].
Natasha: I don’t generally say much on the Internet – not on Facebook, not on Tumblr, not on any websites. I untag myself when I look bad, not because I’m in a situation that I don’t want other people to see.
Have you ever Googled yourself and been surprised at the results?
Hal: I did once and it was just what I expected. Actually, it was from beijingkids; there was a poem I wrote for Blank Canvas a couple of years back.
Natasha: I was just surprised I was on the Internet. I read an article about how to protect yourself online, and one of the tips was “Google yourself.” There’s a lot of me, not just other people named Natasha Torrents. There is a girl on Twitter called “tashadoll” who always talks about drinking and partying, but that’s not me.
Kevin: I was surprised to find that I was a high-level corporate professional at Yahoo.
Amanda: What’s more surprising is what you don’t find, like how narrow your search has to be to find something remotely relevant to yourself. I was struck by the sheer size of the Internet.
Do you think that there’s a generational difference between the way you and your parents see the Internet?
Hal: I do, but extending to technology as a whole. I have a 4-year-old brother and he’s probably clinically addicted to the iPad. It’s just the things that we grow up with; our parents grew up with books and the outdoors.
Kevin: On Facebook, [my mom is]struggling to get around the pages and figure out what “friends” are. She “poked” someone by accident without knowing what it really meant.
Natasha: I would say my parents are as informed or more informed than I am about the Internet and technology.
Amanda: It’s easy for teenagers to exaggerate the importance of the Internet; there are other ways to gather information. At the same time, technology can help bridge the [communication]gap between my parents and I.
What would you say to people who are worried about the Internet corrupting their children?
Amanda: I think it’s important to take these stories into account, because they demonstrate the extent to which online safety issues can go. It might also be useful to talk to students and give them advice on issues like how to guard your privacy.
Kevin: One thing I’ve noticed is that none of us have been making eye contact with you. The Internet has resulted in the reduction of our ability to communicate with each other.
Natasha: Can we have a vote to see who disagrees? The Internet has allowed us to exchange ideas with each other in a different kind of way; it hasn’t necessarily diminished the other paths of communication.
Hal: The Internet has definitely changed the lifestyles of the younger generation. Because people don’t know where this change is going, they seem to be wary of it. But I don’t think it’s a bad thing that people are being acclimated to technology at an early age; it opens up all sorts of interesting possibilities for the future.
For safety, usernames shouldn’t reveal your name, age, school, location, or interests. Using “Mad Lib” style formulas*, give me your best shot at a safe and neutral username.