The following document is provided to OUPD permission of Stephen R. Savitzky and was last updated to our server on April 6th, 1998. I have changed only the graphics/format of the document, not the content. Contact information and links to his site are provided at the end of this document.
If you are young and need help with some of the words or information here, ask your parents or another trusted adult to read through this with you.
Notes, Advice and Warnings
Sometimes somebody on the Net may ask you for information your parents may not want you to give out. Always remember, if thinking about doing something makes you feel uncomfortable, it's probably wrong. When in doubt, ask.
Along the same lines, if reading or looking at something on the Net makes you uncomfortable, don't look at it! The button is your friend.
What if they want a password? Before you can play some games on the Web, you may have to fill out a form that asks for your name or a nickname, and asks you to pick a password. This is a very good idea -- you wouldn't want somebody else to go claiming your game scores, or making you look stupid by sending dumb messages that appear to come from you.
But: If you already have a password at home or at school, pick a different one! Remember, your password is a secret, and any time you tell something to more than one other person (or computer), it's not a secret anymore.
For some things, like a game on the World Wide Web, it's ok to use something easy to remember like a parent's first name. But if your reputation, your money, or your homework is at stake, play it safe and use something really weird that mixes numbers, upper- and lowercase letters, and maybe a bit of punctuation. Some people develop a system for coming up with passwords that are hard to guess but easy to remember. Just don't tell anyone else your system.
You can make a whole private directory with the commands:touch my-secrets chmod og-rw my-secrets
If you're not on a Unix machine, keep your secrets on a floppy disk and keep it with you.mkdir Private chmod og-rwx Private
If you really need to keep something secret, find out about encryption.
What if they want my real name? In some traditions (for example, some African and American Indian cultures, not to mention comic-book superheroes) people have a name they use in public and another, secret name they tell to no-one. The secret name has magical powers, and if anybody learns your secret name, you're in big trouble.
Some people think that the Net is that way. They use nicknames or handles, and don't tell anyone who they really are. As for me, I'm Steve Savitzky and my daughter is Katy, and I don't care who knows it, because anyone who wants to find out, can do it. But ask your parents what they think. And by all means, if you don't feel comfortable giving out your real name, don't.
In any case, treat your password as a secret name, and don't tell it to anybody!
What if they want my address?
This section applies to forms on the Web; e-mail is different.Ask an adult to advise you on this one. They may be planning to send you e-mail or snail-mail trying to sell you something you don't need; your parents may object to this. You may have to look in a section labled ``for parents'' or ``for adults'' to find out why they want your address; you may want a grown-up around when you do this.
If they don't ask for your street address it's almost certainly safe to tell them the rest -- they may be collecting information about where you're from, but at least they won't be sending you junk mail.
Also, if the people who want your address say they'll keep it a secret and won't sell their mailing list, you can probably trust them. But they can still send you junk mail, unless they say they won't. And many places will come right out and tell you that they'll send you a catalog or a flier. (They'll probably send one every month, but that may be just what you want.) But if they don't tell you what they're going to do with the information they're asking for, ask them or assume the worst.
What if they want my phone number?
This section applies to forms on the Web; e-mail is different.Asking for your phone number can be a sneaky way of finding out where you live, and they may call your parents trying to sell them stuff. People who call other people on the phone and try to sell them stuff are called telemarketers (some people call them things I shouldn't write down where kids can read them); they usually call around dinnertime, which isn't very nice. If this happens, get the parent who's best at telling people off to write them a nasty letter.
What if it's too grown-up for me? Just skip it and find something else to look at. What people find interesting changes as they grow up. Also, remember that there are millions of people on the Net, from almost every country and culture in the world. You're bound to be interested in different things, and offended by different things. Try to be tolerant.
You may have noticed I didn't put a warning sticker on this one. Many adults have different opinions about what children, and even other adults, should be allowed to read, listen to, and look at. These opinions change with time, and vary from place to place. In Japan, people take baths together and don't worry about seeing each other naked. In some Moslem countries it's illegal for a woman to show her face in public. Some people think that certain kinds of books should be burned, or at least banned. There is no agreement over which kinds of books. Others (like me) think that burning books is worse than burning people. Enough said?
What if they say things I disagree with? Once again, there are lots of people and cultures on the Net. Many of the most vocal people have strongly-held opinions about controversial subjects, and try to bring other people to their way of thinking. This is sometimes a good thing -- it can make you think about your own beliefs and opinions. It's a problem if someone gets obnoxious, insulting, or overly insistant.
(By the way, an argument over beliefs, opinions, or preferences on the Net is called a ``religious argument'' even when the subject isn't religion, which most people have enough sense not to argue about. Two of the most frequent arguments on the Net are over which of the PC or Macintosh is the better personal computer, and which of
As my own mother used to tell me, ``it takes all kinds to make a world.'' Sometimes I wish more people had mothers who told them that.
(Also by the way, a rude or insulting message in e-mail or a newsgroup posting is called a ``flame.'' Flaming is considered impolite. My mother also used to tell me, ``if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all.'')
What are they selling? Many sites are trying to sell something. This is just like advertising on TV that's aimed at kids. What they really want you to do is pester your parents until they buy something for you.
There may also be an order form on the Web page. Don't use it!!! Usually the form asks for a credit-card number, so you'ld have to ask your parents to place the order for you anyway. Chances are, they won't. The best thing to do is put the URL that describes the thing being sold onto your bookmark list, and e-mail the links to your parents about a month before Christmas or your birthday.
What if they send me e-mail? Keypals and net friends are great! You can have friends all over the world, swap pictures and your favorite dessert recipes, and maybe even meet face-to-face some day. A couple of warnings are in order:
On the other hand, if you're introduced through somebody you both trust, you're probably safe, and less likely to be surprised. If two 6th grade classes in different parts of the world get together to exchange e-mail, for example, there are unlikely to be any impostors in the group.
The Web is also a good way to check up on people. If the person you're corresponding with has a Web page, take a look. If not, ask whether their school is on the Web, or any of their friends. If you know someone's last name and the city they live in (in the US), you can often find them in Switchboard, which gets its information from phone books.
What should I look out for? If someone sends you e-mail and you haven't been introduced through your school, a parent, or a friend that you know personally (not just online), there are a few warning signs to watch out for.
What should I do if I get e-mail I don't want? One of the hazards of having your name and e-mail address out there on the Net is that people will find it.
Don't respond directly!There are really two cases:
Many "spammers" will use a fake return address; a few will use the address of someone else who complained about them. Some will give you an address to reply to in order to get off their list. Don't. In many cases, this just tells them that your address is valid and that you're reading your e-mail. They may not send you anything, but they may sell your name to somebody else.
If you really want to stop them, tell your service provider (or a parent) to contact their service provider. Often that doesn't do much good, but it's better than replying directly.
If the person's domain isn't a service provider you recognize (for example
What if they want to visit me?
For Kids Living at Home
If a friend you've met on the Net wants to visit you, or wants you to visit them, make sure that at least one of your parents gets to meet them, too. Inviting them to your house is good, or have a parent take you over to their house. Have your parents arrange things on the phone first.
If you can't arrange for a phone conversation that includes a parent on each end of the line (for example, you're trying to make all the arrangements by e-mail), or if your parents don't want to tell strangers where you live, or you just feel embarassed about how messy your room is, you can arrange to meet in a public place (maybe at a restaurant or a local amusement park). Be sure you each have a parent along.
For Young People Away from Home
Copyright Notice: Copyright 1995-2000 by Stephen Savitzky. All rights reserved.
To visit the author's site for this document,
and other good kid-stuff, use the following link:
The author can be contacted by email at:
343 Leigh Ave.
San Jose, CA 95128
OUPD Webmaster's Note: While there is a lot of "kid-safey" information on the web, nowadays, it wasn't always so. Back in early '95 when we started our site there was almost none - except for Steve's page (possibly the first "kid-safety" article on the Internet), which he has graciously allowed us to reprint here over the years.
While we always try to keep his most recent version updated here, please be sure to check his site for any changes.
You also should visit his Interesting Places for Kids page and, if you're a parent, his Interesting Places for Parents page.
Steve Savitzky is Chief Software Scientist for Ricoh Silicon Valley, at the California Research Center.
The Police Notebook, Copyright © 1997, University of Oklahoma. All rights reserved.
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