You've probably heard stories about people who get into trouble in chat rooms. Because users can easily remain anonymous, chat rooms often attract people who are interested in more than just chatting. These people will sometimes ask visitors for information about themselves, their families, or where they live - information that shouldn't be given away.
Usually, the people who request personal information like home addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses use this information to fill mailboxes and answering machines with advertisements. In some cases, though, predators may use this information to begin illegal or indecent relationships or to harm a person's or family's well-being. It's rare, but it does happen.
Of course, the Internet is home to millions of places you can and should visit. Like a library, the Web can take you to the ends of the earth with the information it contains.
You can use it as an encyclopedia to do research for school. If you're interested in going to college, you can save gas and money by checking out university websites in advance. And finding employment or volunteer opportunities is easier online, too. Instead of being limited to one local newspaper or word of mouth, you can find out what's available all over your city, state, or country with a click of the mouse.
The key is to protect yourself while you surf.
First rule of smart surfing? Remain as anonymous as possible. That means keeping all private information private. Here are some examples of private information that you should never give out on the Internet:
- full name
- home address
- phone number
- social security numbers
- names of family members
- credit card numbers
Most credible people and companies will never ask for this type of information online. So if someone does, it's a red flag that they may be up to no good.
Think carefully before you create an email address or screen name. Web experts recommend that you use a combination of letters and numbers in both - and that you don't identify whether you're male or female.
In chat rooms, use a nickname that's different from your screen name. That way, if you ever find yourself in a conversation that makes you uncomfortable, you can exit without having to worry that someone knows your screen name and can track you down via email. Some people who hang out with their friends online set up private chat rooms where only they and the people they invite can enter to chat. Check to see if your service provider (such as AOL, MSN, or Earthlink) offers this option.
Experts recommend that people keep online friendships in the virtual world. Meeting online friends face to face carries more risks than other types of friendships because it's so easy for people to pretend to be something they're not when you can't see them or talk in person.
If you ever get involved in a chat room conversation that makes you feel uncomfortable or in danger for any reason, exit and tell a parent or other adult right away so they can report the incident. You can also report it to the website of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at www.missingkids.com - they have a form for reporting this type of incident called CyberTipline. They will then see that the info is forwarded to law enforcement officials for investigation.
It's not just strangers who can make you feel uncomfortable online. Cyberbullying is a word that refers to cruel or bullying messages sent to you online. These might be from former friends or other people you know. They can be irritating and, in some cases, even frightening.
If you get these bullying messages online, it's often better to ignore them rather than answer them. Cyberbullies, just like other bullies, may be angry or disturbed people - and may be looking for attention or a reaction.
Fortunately, most people never experience cyberbullying. But if you're getting cyberbullied and ignoring it doesn't make it go away, getting help from a parent, school counselor, or another trusted adult may be a good idea. That's especially true if the cyberbullying contains threats.
Although email is relatively private, hackers can still access it. If you find that your mailbox is getting clogged with spam - emails you didn't ask for like advertisements or harassing or offensive notes - contact your service provider to let them know there's a problem and to find out about options that allow you to block certain senders and topics. Many service providers will help you block out or screen inappropriate emails if your parents agree to set up age-appropriate parental controls.
If you don't recognize the sender of a document or file that needs to be downloaded, delete it without opening it to avoid getting a virus on your machine. Virus protection software is a must for every computer. And you can also buy software that helps rid your computer of unwanted spyware programs that report what your computer is doing. There's even software out there to help block spam. Some service providers make software available to protect you from these online annoyances - such as blockers for those in-your-face pop-up ads.
If you do invest in protective software, you'll need to keep updating it to be sure it continues to do its job as new technologies evolve.
With all the problems you can face online, is it worth it? For most people, the answer is definitely yes. You just need to know where the pitfalls are, use some common sense and caution, and you'll be in control.
Updated and reviewed by: Neil Izenberg, MD
Date reviewed: January 2004
Originally reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
By KURT EICHENWALD
The 13-year-old boy sat in his California home, eyes fixed on a computer screen. He had never run with the popular crowd and long ago had turned to the Internet for the friends he craved. But on this day, Justin Berry's fascination with cyberspace would change his life.
Weeks before, Justin had hooked up a Web camera to his computer, hoping to use it to meet other teenagers online. Instead, he heard only from men who chatted with him by instant message as they watched his image on the Internet. To Justin, they seemed just like friends, ready with compliments and always offering gifts.
Now, on an afternoon in 2000, one member of his audience sent a proposal: he would pay Justin $50 to sit bare-chested in front of his Webcam for three minutes. The man explained that Justin could receive the money instantly and helped him open an account on PayPal.com, an online payment system.
"I figured, I took off my shirt at the pool for nothing," he said recently."So, I was kind of like, what's the difference?"
Justin removed his T-shirt. The men watching him oozed compliments.
So began the secret life of a teenager who was lured into selling images of his body on the Internet over the course of five years. From the seduction that began that day, this soccer-playing honor roll student was drawn into performing in front of the Webcam - undressing, showering, masturbating and even having sex - for an audience of more than 1,500 people who paid him, over the years, hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Justin's dark coming-of-age story is a collateral effect of recent technological advances. Minors, often under the online tutelage of adults, are opening for-pay pornography sites featuring their own images sent onto the Internet by inexpensive Webcams. And they perform from the privacy of home, while parents are nearby, beyond their children's closed bedroom doors.
The business has created youthful Internet pornography stars - with nicknames like Riotboyy, Miss Honey and Gigglez - whose images are traded online long after their sites have vanished. In this world, adolescents announce schedules of their next masturbation for customers who pay fees for the performance or monthly subscription charges. Eager customers can even buy"private shows," in which teenagers sexually perform while following real-time instructions.
A six-month investigation by The New York Times into this corner of the Internet found that such sites had emerged largely without attracting the attention of law enforcement or youth protection organizations. While experts with these groups said they had witnessed a recent deluge of illicit, self-generated Webcam images, they had not known of the evolution of sites where minors sold images of themselves for money.
"We've been aware of the use of the Webcam and its potential use by exploiters," said Ernest E. Allen, chief executive of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, a private group."But this is a variation on a theme that we haven't seen. It's unbelievable."
Minors who run these sites find their anonymity amusing, joking that their customers may be the only adults who know of their activities. It is, in the words of one teenage site operator, the"Webcam Matrix," a reference to the movie in which a computerized world exists without the knowledge of most of humanity.
In this virtual universe, adults hunt for minors on legitimate sites used by Webcam owners who post contact information in hopes of attracting friends. If children respond to messages, adults spend time"grooming" them - with praise, attention and gifts - before seeking to persuade them to film themselves pornographically.
The lure is the prospect of easy money. Many teenagers solicit"donations," request gifts through sites like Amazon.com or negotiate payments, while a smaller number charge monthly fees. But there are other beneficiaries, including businesses, some witting and some unwitting, that provide services to the sites like Web hosting and payment processing.
Not all victims profit, with some children ending up as pornographic commodities inadvertently, even unknowingly. Adolescents have appeared naked on their Webcams as a joke, or as presents for boyfriends or girlfriends, only to have their images posted on for-pay pornography sites. One Web site proclaims that it features 140,000 images of"adolescents in cute panties exposing themselves on their teen Webcams."
Entry into this side of cyberspace is simplicity itself. Webcams cost as little as $20, and the number of them being used has mushroomed to 15 million, according to IDC, an industry consulting group. At the same time, instant messaging programs have become ubiquitous, and high-speed connections, allowing for rapid image transmission, are common.
The scale of Webcam child pornography is unknown, because it is new and extremely secretive. One online portal that advertises for-pay Webcam sites, many of them pornographic, lists at least 585 sites created by teenagers, internal site records show. At one computer bulletin board for adults attracted to adolescents, a review of postings over the course of a week revealed Webcam image postings of at least 98 minors.
The Times inquiry has already resulted in a large-scale criminal investigation. In June, The Times located Justin Berry, then 18. In interviews, Justin revealed the existence of a group of more than 1,500 men who paid for his online images, as well as evidence that other identifiable children as young as 13 were being actively exploited.
In a series of meetings, The Times persuaded Justin to abandon his business and, to protect other children at risk, assisted him in contacting the Justice Department. Arrests and indictments of adults he identified as pornography producers and traffickers began in September. Investigators are also focusing on businesses, including credit card processors that have aided illegal sites. Anyone who has created, distributed, marketed, possessed or paid to view such pornography is open to a criminal charge.
"The fact that we are getting so many potential targets, people who knowingly bought into a child pornographic Web site, could lead to hundreds of other subjects and potentially save hundreds of other kids that we are not aware of yet," said Monique Winkis, a special agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation who is working the case.
Law enforcement officials also said that, with the cooperation of Justin, they had obtained a rare guide into this secluded online world whose story illuminates the exploitation that takes place there.
"I didn't want these people to hurt any more kids," Justin said recently of his decision to become a federal witness."I didn't want anyone else to live the life I lived."
If you've just had a break-up and are feeling down, you're not alone. Just about everyone experiences a break-up at sometime, and many then have to deal with heartbreak" a wave of grief, anger, confusion, low self-esteem, and maybe even jealousy all at once. Millions of poems and songs have been written about having a broken heart and wars have even been fought because of heartbreak.
Lots of things can cause heartbreak. Some people might have had a romantic relationship that ended before they were ready. Others might have strong feelings for someone who doesn't feel the same way. Or maybe a person feels sad or angry when a close friend moves out of their life. Although the causes may be different, the feeling of loss is the same" whether it's the loss of something real or the loss of something you only hoped for. People describe heartbreak as a feeling of heaviness, emptiness, and sadness.
Most people will tell you you'll get over it or you'll meet someone else, but when it's happening to you, it can feel like no one else in the world has ever felt the same way. If you're experiencing these feelings, there are things you can do to lessen the pain. Here are some tips that might help:
Share your feelings.
Some people find that sharing their feelings with someone they trust" someone who recognizes what they're going through" helps them feel better. That could mean talking over all the things you feel, even having a good cry on the shoulder of a comforting friend or family member. Others find they heal better if they hang out and do the things they normally enjoy, like seeing a movie or going to a concert, to take their minds off the hurt. If you feel like someone can't relate to what you're going through or is dismissive of your feelings, find someone more sympathetic to talk to. (OK, we know that sharing feelings can be tough for guys, but you don't necessarily have to tell the football team or your wrestling coach what you're going through. Talk with a friend or family member, a teacher, or counselor. It might make you more comfortable if you find a female family member or friend, like an older sister or a neighbor, to talk to).
Remember what's good about you.
This one is really important. Sometimes people with broken hearts start to blame themselves for what's happened. They may be really down on themselves, exaggerating their faults as though they did something to deserve the unhappiness they're experiencing. If you find this happening to you, nip it in the bud! Remind yourself of your good qualities, and if you can't think of them because your broken heart is clouding your view, get your friends to remind you.
Take good care of yourself.
A broken heart can be very stressful so don't let the rest of your body get broken too. Get lots of sleep, eat healthy foods, and exercise regularly to minimize stress and depression and give your self-esteem a boost.
Don't be afraid to cry.
Going through a break-up can be really tough, and getting some of those raw emotions out can be a big help. We know this is another tough one for guys, but there's no shame in crying now and then. No one has to see you do it" you don't have to start blubbering in class or at soccer practice or anything. Just a find a place where you can be alone, like crying into your pillow at night or in the shower when you're getting ready for the day.
Do the things you normally enjoy.
Whether it's seeing a movie or going to a concert, do something fun to take your mind off the negative feelings for a while.
Keep yourself busy.
Sometimes this is difficult when you're coping with sadness and grief, but it really helps. This is a great time to redecorate your room or try a new hobby. That doesn't mean you shouldn't think about what happened" working things through in our minds is all part of the healing process" it just means you should focus on other things too.
Give yourself time.
It takes time for sadness to go away. Almost everyone thinks they won't feel normal again, but the human spirit is amazing" and the heartbreak almost always heals after a while. But how long will that take? That depends on what caused your heartbreak, how you deal with loss, and how quickly you tend to bounce back from things. Getting over a break-up can take a couple of days to many weeks" and sometimes even months.
Some people feel that nothing will make them happy again and resort to alcohol or drugs. Others feel angry and want to hurt themselves or someone else. People who drink, do drugs, or cut themselves to escape from the reality of a loss may think they are numbing their pain, but the feeling is only temporary. They're not really dealing with the pain, only masking it, which makes all their feelings build up inside and prolongs the sadness.
Sometimes the sadness is so deep" or lasts so long" that a person may need some extra support. For someone who isn't starting to feel better after a few weeks or who continues to feel depressed, talking to a counselor or therapist can be very helpful.
So be patient with yourself, and let the healing begin.
Reviewed by: Ken L. Cheyne, MD
Date reviewed: August 2004
Originally reviewed by: D'Arcy Lyness, PhD
Tips on Setting Limits & Rules
From Denise Witmer,
Your Guide to Parenting of Adolescents.
Communicate the limits.
This should be done when you and your teen are not at odds with each other over a certain rule. Find the time to talk it through, sending clear messages to your teen as to what the limit, ie rule, is.
Let your teen have a say.
Often, we are too quick on setting the rules. If you give your teenager the opportunity to help with what the rules are they are more likely to comply with them. You may have to compromise on a few things. That is ok, because after a time period if the rule is not working, it can be changed.
If the rule is no tv until after they finish their homework, then it needs to be that way every school day. We are not always in the mood to enforce the limits, that is part of what makes parenting so hard. Once your teen understands that the limit will be enforced even when you are tired, they will stop testing that limit.
On the flip side of the last point, don't add to the rule just because you are tired. If something has come up that makes you feel that the rule needs to be changed or added to, wait until you have thought it through and been able to communicate it to your teen.
Don't forget your values.
These are the things that make us the people we are, so don't be afraid to communicate them to your teen when setting the limits. Never be taken in by what other parents let their kids do. My standard reply to that is: 'Yes, well, to each his own.' Or you can say one of my longer replies, 'I'm sorry that it bothers you, but these are our rules, yours and mine. This is our family, yours and mine.' When they come back at you with, 'Well, I wish I wasn't part of this family then!' Take a deep breath and let it go. That is a very normal teenage reaction to limits. It's their job to test them, and push your buttons to do that testing.
If you need help giving clear messages to your teenager, how about writing them down in an Action Plan?