for Kids on the Web
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.
- If you need help with some of the words or information here, ask your
parents, a teacher, or some other adult you trust to read through this
Along the same lines, if reading or looking at something on the Net makes you
uncomfortable, don't look at it! The back button is your
- This symbol marks something that you might be interested in knowing
about. It may, for example, mark a section that tells you how to do
something, like keeping secrets.
- This marks a section that gives you advice. It talks about something
that you really ought to think about before you do something, and maybe
ask your parents about.
- This marks something that's probably OK, but might have
unexpected consequences that you really need to think about,
and might conflict with some rule that your parents have made for you
or that you have made for yourself.
- $$$ Money:
- This tells you what some site is selling (that is, trying to get
you to pester your parents until they buy it for you).
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.
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
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
If you go around giving out different passwords to lots of places on the Web,
you'll probably have to write them down somewhere. Do you have a box with a
lock on it in your room? A diary? If you're on a Unix machine, you can make
a file called
my-secrets that only you (or your system
administrator) can read, by typing:
You can make a whole private directory with the commands:
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.
chmod og-rwx Private
If you really need to keep something secret, find out about
- Encryption is illegal in some parts of the world, and in any case may
give your parents or system administrator the impression that you don't
- If you do decide to encrypt something, don't forget your
password! If you forget your Unix password, your system
administrator can give you another one. If you forget an encryption
password, your data is gone for good.
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
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
In any case, treat your password as a secret name, and
don't tell it to anybody!
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.
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.
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
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
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
(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
emacs is the
better text editor.)
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.'')
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.
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
- Ask a parent to advise you about giving somebody you've just met in
e-mail your real name (if it's not normally in your header), your phone
number, or your address. If you're away at college be
especially careful about this.
- Be prepared for a few surprises; not everyone you meet on the Net is
exactly who they say they are. That 18-year-old girl who's been
reading your poetry and advising you about how to get a boyfriend might
be a 13-year-old boy who's hacked into his big sister's account, a
15-year-old girl trying to act grown-up, a lonely 50-year-old woman
with kids your age, or (less likely, but not totally impossible) a
criminal looking for potential victims. She may even be a politician
or a journalist trying to find out how easy it is for criminals to meet
kids on the net.
- Be prepared for a certain amount of mistrust and suspicion, too. If
somebody is mailing from a student account on a machine in a high
school, you can be pretty sure about them, but they may not be
so sure about you.
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.
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.
- If they ask you not to tell your parents about them.
- Tell your parents right away!
- If they send you a gift.
- Ask yourself if you would take a gift like that from a stranger in a
- If they won't tell you much about themselves.
- Maybe they're not who they say they are.
- If they do tell you about themselves and it doesn't check out.
- Make sure you do check it out. If they tell you the name of
the town they live in, look it up on a map. Ask them questions. Does
their school have a Web page? If it doesn't all check out, that means
they've been lying to you and will probably lie to you about
other things, too.
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:
- They're trying to sell you something. (see, also,
What are they selling?
- They've said something that disturbs you (see the previous section).
$$$ Selling Something
E-mail that offers a product, or tells you about a money-making opportunity,
or describes a chain letter or other scheme, is called ``Unsolicited
Commercial E-Mail'' (UCE). It's more commonly known as ``spam''. Some of
these things are just bad ideas; others, like chain letters, are actually
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.
``Don't talk to strangers'' is just as good advice on the net
as it is on the street. If you get e-mail that disturbs you, there are two
possibilities, neither of them good.
In either case, have your parents or your service provider's system
administration department find out who this person's service provider is, and
contact their system administrator. Often it will be a user called
- The person sending it is using a fake or incorrect address, either to
get someone else in trouble or just to hide behind it while they make
you feel bad, or because they're using a machine in a public place that
the previous user didn't erase their address from. (This happened to me
recently, which is why I'm writing this in the first place). In that
case, replying directly will just cause the real person behind the
address, if any, to think that you're accusing them of something bad.
They'll be upset, if nothing else. You don't want that.
- The person sending it is using their own address. In that case, you
might be replying to a harmless pervert, or perhaps to a dangerous
criminal. You don't want that, either.
''. Some of the larger service providers have a user
'' for reporting this kind of thing.
If the person's domain isn't a service provider you recognize (for example
netcom.com) it might be a private
postmaster might be the person who sent you the
mail in the first place. In that case you had better contact their
service provider. You can look this up using the search forms at the
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
Things are different when you're out on your own. If you're away at college,
or just living in a apartment and working, be very careful about who
you reveal your address, and maybe even your name and phone number, to. If
you want to meet somebody you've struck up an acquaintance with on the Net, do
it in a public place and bring along a friend.
- Safety on the
Internet and KID SAFETY on the
- at the University of
Oklahoma Department of Public Safety, which has lots of other
safety-related online documents. Best viewed with Netscape.
Copyright 1995-1999 by Stephen Savitzky. All rights reserved.
The original of this document may be freely linked to, though I would
appreciate a brief note via e-mail so that I can thank you personally and
possibly return the favor. If you are reading a copy, please link to the
Copies or excerpts of this document may be made and distributed in any
physical medium for any non-commercial purpose, provided:
- This notice, the date last modified, the author's name, and the
document's URL remain intact (or, for copies or excerpts accessible
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- Any changes to wording are clearly identified with author and date.
- I am notified of any such copying other than for the personal use of
If you wish to copy this document for commercial gain or make it part of a
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will be made available in bulk.
If you wish to make an electronic copy, please make a link instead.
Here's why linking is better than copying.
Last modified: Thu Nov 4 21:54:17 1999
Copyright © 1999, Stephen R. Savitzky.
$Id: warn-kids.xh,v 1.10 1999/11/05 06:08:49 steve Exp $
Stephen R. Savitzky <steve@theStarport.org>
343 Leigh Ave. / San Jose, CA 95128