5 Internet Life Lessons Parents Need to Start Teaching Kids
It wasn't until recently that I fully understood that my kids were as much a part of the online world as me. They play online games, they watch Youtube videos, they visit message boards. Half of their human interaction is going to happen online, maybe more.
Definitely more, for the weird-looking ones.
It's easy for parents to forget this because they're using their own childhood as a guide for what lessons need to be learned and, you know, the internet didn't exist when we were that age.
So kids, here is what you need to know. This is important so pay attention.
I fucking said PAY ATTENTION.
Don't Look Like an Idiot When Communicating Via Text
Kids, never forget that anything you type on the internet can wind up etched in granite for the rest of eternity, for all to see. One impulsive post on Facebook can get screengrabbed and saved and passed around until long after you're in your grave. Keep this in mind when you are posting anything online, anywhere.
If later in life an employer decides to Google your name to find some free background on you, he or she has access to every little retarded thing you ever posted on Facebook or Twitter. It's not like having a conversation in Meatworld, where everybody will forget what you said by next month, or remember that you were drunk when you said it. Once it's in text, on the internet, every last word is there to read by anyone on the planet with a computer. There are even websites that archive web pages that have long since been deleted from their hosting servers years ago.
I've already broken my own rule here by cursing so much, and using the word "retarded" above. Uh, don't do that.
Also, never be drunk in front of a camera. Ever.
But curse words aside, learn your own goddamn language. Once upon a time you could get away with not knowing the difference between "their" and "they're" because in spoken conversation they sound the same. Online, everybody can see that you weren't paying attention in fourth grade when you mix up "your" and "you're."
Remember that text is going to be how you make your first impression over the internet; if every third word you type is misspelled, people will automatically assume that you're a moron. Even if the public school system fails you, there are browsers that come with spellcheck built-in. Me, I used Microsoft Word to type this article, simply because it checks my spelling as I type.
Also, keep texting shortcuts confined to your cell phone. Everybody understands when you use "2" instead of "too" because you were typing with your thumbs on a number pad. But you cannot let that habit sneak into your work or school emails or even message boards. And there's no reason for it, you have all the time in the world to construct and proofread your message. If you are so pressed for time that you can't spend the extra quarter of a second to type out the full word, you need to get up right away and finish your responsibilities. Don't even worry about closing the window - that would take almost a full second.
It matters. Once you type it, it's there forever.
For. Ev. Er.
Oh, and if you use "lol" in every sentence you type (and I've seen people who use it multiple times, ie, "lol I like dolphins because they're cute lol") I'm picturing you as this cackling moron. If you're really laughing out loud that much you need to be on some kind of medication.
Don't Feed the Trolls
Children, you have been raised in a culture of sitcoms and movie comedies where the ultimate act of coolness is to really put a jerk in his place with a hilarious insult. Therefore, you instinctively think that every jerk needs to be insulted. But communicating online requires you to specifically suppress this urge.
The reason, is trolls. A "troll" is someone who tries to instigate an argument or otherwise get a reaction from you by acting like an asshole. They usually aren't like that in real life, they basically write as a character as a way to get attention. Online, they are usually pretty easy to spot, but most people don't have the ability to react in the one absolute surefire way to shut them down: cold, dead silence.
So, if someone on a message board, or in a chat room, or article comment section posts about how much that particular website sucks and how every member there is an idiot, he's not expecting agreement or for the community to change based on his feedback. He's looking for that community to attack him. He wants the attention. He can't get love from the group, but he can get hate, and even hate is better than apathy.
Therefore, screaming insults at him only ensures that he'll continue doing what he's doing. If nobody responds to anything he says, he'll simply get bored and go away.
"Screw you guys. I didn't want to talk about Mr. Belvedere anyway."
It's so simple, yet incredibly hard to do. Every instinct in your body will scream for you to react, the same instinct that makes the other dogs in a pack attack the one acting like a fucktard. You must resist it.
Before you can even stop to think about what you're going to say, your fingers will be hammering out the perfect combination of letters to "put him in his place." Understand this: if you combined all of the languages from every life form on every developed planet in an infinite number of universes, you would not be able to construct a single sentence that would accomplish this goal.
He's not after an argument. He's after your response. Any response. If you hit that "enter" button, he automatically wins.
Of course it should go without saying that you should never allow yourself to be the troll. Again, it's harder than it sounds. You'll get bored, you'll run into a community that doesn't accept you and you'll see yourself as the wacky Animal House fraternity to their Dean Wormer. You're not. You'll just be the guy who draws dicks on the walls of public bathrooms.
Make some friends, get some hobbies, do something that gets you the right kind of attention so you don't have to resort to being the stain some bored moderator has to clean up.
At least the kids who smoke aren't shitting up our forums.
Don't Use Online Gaming as an Excuse to Act Like an Ass
For a lot of you kids, online games are both your number one hobby and favorite social hangout. This is only going to get more common as time goes on. So a lot of the people you meet in life will be anonymous fellow gamers.
Level 80 Tauren Shaman.
And they are fucking retarded.
In that context, anyway. Now, over time you will be tempted to react and thus join them in their idiocy. You must resist. You have to understand that gaming is a unique social setting, there wasn't really an equivalent for it in society before the technology came along. It's part cooperation, part competition, and in one sitting can involve communicating with people you know in real life, people you know only from gaming with them, and total strangers from the opposite side of the planet. Humans haven't quite figured out how to act in this setting, so they default to acting like shitheads.
For instance, you only get good at a game by screwing up and learning from it, but when this happens, no matter how minor your mistake, people are going to call you some of the most vile, offensive, hate-fueled names you've ever heard. They will wish death upon you, and you're going to have to know how to handle that without playing into their stupidity.
The best way is to politely leave the party. Remember that in most cases, not every member of your group is a flaming douchebag. Many times, there is only one impatient cockhole who is having a bad day, and you're his stress dump for that particular minute.
Like in the previous lesson, you must resist fighting fire with fire. All that is going to do is piss you off and further fuel his rage. No matter what he says, your best bet is to understand that he's unable to be reasoned with, he is an unfixable, insufferable cocksucker, and he is best left behind.
Don't spend too much time hating him, or feeling sorry for him, or thinking about him at all. Maybe he's a nice person in real life, maybe he's a piece of shit and will remain one for years to come. Either way, he is allowing a silly computer game to dominate his emotions. For some people, that's the only reason they play, to get a chance to yell at people because if they did that during the day, they'd get fired.
Don't let him drag you into that state of mind. After leaving the group, are you still mad about what he said and how he treated you? That's natural. Maybe it's time for a break. Don't let yourself become that guy; if you feel the urge to pass on his abuse to someone else, log out of the game and find something else to do for a while. The second it becomes more than a game and starts affecting you emotionally, it's time to consider not playing that game anymore. Also, do not track down and murder other players.
Assume Everything is a Scam, and You'll Almost Always be Right
Repeat after me, kids: nothing is truly free. People who offer you free things on the internet in exchange for some action on your part (a download, a reply, an account number) are trying to trick you and rob you.
In general, if you receive an email from someone you don't know, there's a very good chance that it's either an advertisement or a flat-out scam. Some subject lines will be obvious, if not somewhat intriguing ("chemical spillz in pussy orphanage ROLAX!") so just delete them and forget they ever existed. However, some will be harder to spot. And at some point in your life you will fall for one.
For instance, so-called "419 scams" appear to be actual emails from actual people, complete with a tear-jerking story of some horrible thing that happened to a coworker, friend, or family member. They will make a very convincing case that they live outside the United States, and they have this money that they cannot access without your help. If you could just give them some of your personal information and your bank account number, they could transfer this money to you, and in return you can keep some of it.
Bullshit, right? You wouldn't believe how many people actually fall for it. Smart people. These scammers are con artists whose entire livelihood depends on eventually figuring out a way to fool you. They'll keep trying. They'll play on your sympathy, or your loneliness, or your guilt. But at the center of it they're really playing on your desire to get something for nothing.
You can never be too cynical about this. Don't even bother responding. Just delete it. Nothing is truly free. Write it on your monitor with a Sharpie.
Right above "never trust Nigerian royalty".
Likewise, you'll run into sites offering everything from free online gaming, free online casinos, free screen savers, free video game hacks, whatever. All you need to do is download this toolbar that oh by the way will spawn popup ads on every site you visit and track every move you make online.
Also, watch out for official-looking emails from your email host or Facebook or your bank or any other online service you can possibly use, asking for your login information. They'll claim your account is in some kind of danger and that you have to follow a link they gave you that, in reality, leads to a dummy page intended to steal your password.
PC gaming is rampant with this, WoW players are inundated with in-game messages from "official Blizzard employees." Always remember that in an online game, the makers will never ask you for your username and password.
In fact, the same is true for the rest of the internet. If someone asks you for that information, don't give it to them.
All right. Let's not put this one off any longer. But you're not going to be a kid forever and at some point you're going to need to know to...
Be Responsible with Porn
By far, the easiest way to stay safe where porn sites are concerned is to not go to one. But that's like telling you that the easiest way to avoid gaining weight is to not eat junk food. It's true, but... you're going to reach a certain age where statistically your odds of looking at porn are close to 100%. It's better to acknowledge the stuff exists and encourage responsibility than pretend you'll eat nothing but celery for the rest of your life.
There's a time for bacon, is the message here.
First of all, exercise some goddamned common sense. People get fired every day for looking at porn. Do not look at porn at work. School is another no-no. The connections there are monitored, and you will get caught if "Boob Titford's Tittyworld" shows up on their network. If you honestly have to see some porn so badly that you can't wait until you get home and watch it in private, you need help. Come talk to me. It'll be weird but nothing you're doing is going to shock me. I'm not entirely sure I haven't appeared in some porn at some point.
Second, remember your rules for spam email. Porn offers that come through mail are extremely likely to lead to a link that will hijack your computer. If you don't know someone who can clean it out for you, you'll be spending a couple hundred dollars to get it fixed and from then on every time you walk into the computer shop, the repair guy will give you a knowing smirk that says he knows you like the interracial stuff.
Stick to physical media for really nasty kinks.
Third, and most important, get your porn from a clean source. There are mainstream sites with legal disclaimers that operate in the open and are completely free. If, instead, you wind up at some anonymous pic-trading site you can wind up with porn that can send your ass to jail. You're going to wind up with shit that was filmed with an underaged girl in a Ukrainian mobster's basement.
Registered sex offenders tend not to get scholarships.
I haven't covered everything in this article -- it's not possible, considering scammers have thought up a dozen new cons in the time it took me to write it -- and you'll still have to learn some lessons the hard way, through embarrassing trial and error. And when it happens, you'll be able to look back at this article and realize that you should have goddamned paid attention like I told you.