Refresh your Perspective

Information on digital awareness for teenagers and people looking to understand teenagers

Rohan Dadlani

Rohan is a high school freshman in New York City with diverse academic interests across history, science, technology, and math. Rohan actively pursues art, acting, and writing, both in school and his spare time. He is also an avid squash player and likes playing soccer.

Rohan enjoys presenting subjects through illustration, gaming, and metaphors. He is actively looking to use his language to showcase the perspective of a teenager on a myriad of topics.

As one reflects on the benefits of gaming I discussed in my previous article, it is important to understand some of the risks with this medium of interaction. Here is some information on the risks and how to protect yourself from them.

  1. Cyberbullying in Competitive Games:
    • When playing a competitive team sport, teammates tend to get frustrated with one another when they make mistakes or play poorly. Similarly, in video games, players get very upset when their teammates “throw” (which is when someone does not play the game properly and effectively hands the victory to their opponent) a game. Due to the resulting frustration, players often say things that are rude or offensive to their teammates. If you are on the receiving end of this anger, the best thing to do is to take a break from playing, because arguing can worsen the situation. Depending on the game you are playing, you may also be able to block the aggressor, and, where available, use the game’s reporting feature to flag the incident. If you are the one chastising someone, stop talking and take a breather before you continue playing; no game is worth belittling someone and making them feel hurt.
  2. Strangers in Gaming:
    • Gaming online with strangers, while fun, comes with drawbacks, such as the anonymity gaming provides. This can be a huge drawback when people cloak their identity to manipulate and bully others. If you find yourself in a conversation with a stranger who does something that makes you uncomfortable, such as asking you details about your family, your school, your address, or other personal information, do not engage with them. Always remove yourself from such a conversation, because if someone whom you do not know is prying about your life, they may have malicious intent. Being aware of these situations is paramount to your safety, as these people can hurt you in real life. Do not let yourself get lulled into a false sense of security in this anonymous world. There is nothing wrong with having fun online, but in order to stay safe, you must show the same level of wariness online that you would when interacting with a stranger on the street.
  3. Mature Content in Games:
    • Another risk of gaming comes from the games themselves. Some games have gore and are meant for mature audiences, which can be disturbing and inappropriate for a young child. If you have any concerns about whether you or your child should be playing a particular video game, the ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board) has provided a rating system for video games since the ’90s. In addition, before I buy a new game, I make sure to check reviews for it on YouTube and get opinions from my close friends to be sure it is appropriate, yet fun.

Understanding the three main types of risks — competitive cyberbullying, interactions with strangers, and the content of the games themselves — is important as gaming has become a popular medium for fun and social interaction. Although there are other areas of concern surrounding gaming, these three serve as my guard rails and help me make smart and safe choices as I traverse the world of online gaming. — January 14, 2022

As the world transitions into a predominantly digital age, aspects of our life follow suit. Online shopping, working from home, and learning with technology are just a few examples. As for fun, online gaming has become a popular medium of interaction for the young and young at heart, and as such, it is important to understand the pros, cons, and why games are relevant. Gaming saw a huge rise in popularity during Covid times since it provided a zero-physical-contact option for social interaction.

The three major types of gaming that are popular are, competitive games, sandbox games, and story games; Competitive games provide a player vs. player experience and can prove to be challenging and fun; Sandbox games are explorative, free-for-all, and limitless fun as they inspire creativity and imagination; Story games have a storyline, similar to an interactive movie.

The type of game in turn emphasizes different aspects of gaming that can be considered benefits and fall into 3 broad categories:

  1. Social
    • Gaming online brings you together with a community of gamers who share interests with you, working as a team for a common goal, and spending time with people from diverse backgrounds as you interact with the many aspects of a game. Access to a community helps people who are typically timid, open up and have fun with a community that just focuses on the game.
  2. Developmental
    • Gaming helps develop certain motor and cognitive skills. Many games emphasize hand-eye coordination and help develop a fast reaction time. In the fast-paced energy of a competitive video game, players learn to think strategically by responding to and predicting their opponent’s moves. Video games can also provide players with difficult in-game challenges, where players need to improvise, adapt, and overcome. In addition, gaming provides learning benefits that are evident in games such as Spore: a game that helps players learn about the process of evolution and how genetic traits change over time.
  3. Recreational
    • Video games are fun because of how diverse they are: no matter who you are, there is almost certainly a game that fits your play style and personal preference. Games can also be incredibly relaxing. Some games are satisfying and low-intensity, allowing the player to have fun without putting in effort.

Gaming provides benefits for sure, but as it is with everything, one has to be aware of where things can go wrong. Stay tuned for the follow-up to this article, where I cover the areas of concern with online gaming.

We live in a digital world. Every aspect of our lives is made easy and efficient by electronics and the internet. But as it is with all things, nothing good comes without a side effect. The internet is a wonderful place, full of information and entertainment. However, the internet can also become a dangerous place, but only if you let it.

The anonymity of the internet is both an advantage and a problem. Because people can remain anonymous on the internet, people can maintain privacy while interacting with strangers, which is not always a bad thing, in situations such as online gaming. The flip side is much worse. Anonymity allows people with malicious intent to seem innocent, effectively lowering your guard and causing you to make a mistake that could have a serious adverse effect. But there is a multitude of ways to avoid this. 

For starters, make sure you avoid blindly trusting people that you meet online. The worst thing to do is be upset or distressed and accidentally tell someone your personal information. Be wary of anyone or any website who asks you for your full name, any type of photograph, your current location, home or school address or the address of any of your family or friends, phone numbers, Social Security number, passwords, names of family members, credit card numbers, birthdays, and even the time in your area, which can allow people to narrow down your location. Never let the ease of online conversation lower your guard. People seldom need this information, and giving this information to the wrong person not only puts you at risk, but it puts your family and friends at risk too. If you realize you may have inadvertently shared any personal information online, inform a person you trust, and take the necessary steps to address it. 

If someone sends you a link, never click it unless you have validated the link or the sender. Even if the link comes from someone you trust, always use a link checker, such as the one I have linked below. No matter how much you trust a person, it can never hurt to verify. These links can be used to “grab” your IP address, install malware or spyware on your personal devices, and gain unrestricted access to your devices and data. 

In summary, the caution that you show in day-to-day life in the physical world should not be abandoned when you enter the digital world. In fact, you need to have a heightened sense of security given the anonymity of the digital universe. The internet is a medium of tremendous power, and as the Spiderman movies have taught us, “With great power, there must also come great responsibility.”

With the increased degree of personal information that our generation keeps online, Digital Safety has become more important. These days, any information you have can be used against you, and safety online is paramount. As widely known, the world collectively produces over 2.5 quintillion bytes of data each day. A large portion of this is “digital exhaust” – pieces of public and private information that each of us creates when interacting with the internet. Private information is something that is best kept, well, private, so to prevent others from taking your personal information and using it against you, there are a few steps you can employ as your first line of defense, protecting you from the dangers of the internet.

Passwords are pretty common form of security. If you have spent any time on the internet, chances are you have made a password. Passwords are a series of characters that need to be consistently typed in the same order in order to allow access. Think of passwords as a “digital combination lock.” Passwords are at their weakest when people use the elements that relate to their lives, like important dates, birthdays, or names of family members. These passwords are a huge risk, as there is almost nothing stopping identity thieves and hackers from finding your birthday and guessing your password. When I make a password, I make sure to follow a few simple guidelines:

  • Make the password more than 10 characters. 10 is merely a minimum, so just remember that a longer password is harder to crack.
  • Make the password include some number of lowercase and uppercase letters, symbols, and numbers. Adding randomness and variety is a good thing, but just remember not to go too crazy, lest you forget your own password.
  • Make you password easy to remember, but not obvious. Examples of this are using phrases and words in different languages to not only make the password hard to guess, but easy to remember. If you struggle to remember things, writing a password down is perfectly fine, but if you can, avoid it.
  • NEVER repeat a password. Repeating passwords reduces the amount of effort it takes for someone to access your accounts, so you should always avoid it.

You can satisfy these elements by making and keeping your passwords manually, or by using a password manager to record and create your passwords. Just ensure that the password manager you use stores your data securely.

Passwords are effective, but there is a second layer that can be added through 2FA. 2FA, or Two-Factor Authentication, is a type of security that combines the use of something you know, such as a password, with the use of something you have, like your phone. This type of authentication is effective because online attacks are only possible if both parts are readily known. For accounts that are more important, like bank accounts, 2FA should always be used if the option is available. This extra layer of security can be the critical safeguard that prevents your online identity from being compromised.

In addition to passwords and 2FA, another effective way of ensuring your security is with a VPN, or a Virtual Private Network. I’m sure you have probably seen a sponsorship from a content creator for a VPN before, but what are they? VPNs are a type of protection that defends your data by creating a private connection for you to access the internet. The VPN reroutes your data through encrypted pathways, effectively hiding your IP address.

While these tools are effective in ensuring the first level of protection, each of us needs to be constantly aware of our digital footprint. Essentially, the internet should be treated the same as the real world. Just as you would lock your door or safe, you should always lock your digital profiles, and be aware of who you let in.

Children on Social Media

The internet supports platforms that enable interactions and the expression of opinions online. Social media is a prime example of one of these platforms, as it enables people to chat, network, and share content. With its growing popularity and usage, it has attracted the attention of children and become a prominent means of communication for them. Although social media has benefits, such as being an exchange of knowledge and humor, people are also able to use it to spread misinformation, bigotry, hate, and sometimes even explicit content. As such, social media, with its widespread access and lack of content governance, can be especially detrimental for children below 13: a demographic that is particularly impressionable. The challenge, then, is to understand why children are being drawn to social media, and how to mitigate the inherent risks that stem from children using it as a medium of social interaction.

Children find themselves using social media for a variety of reasons that, from my personal experience, center around FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). For example, imagine that a child convinces their guardians to let them use social media, and they choose to boast about their new privilege to their peers. The child’s peers then, in turn, feel left out and are pressured to convince their guardians to let them use social media, to avoid “missing out” on this trend. This cycle continues to pull more children into social media.

In order to provide controls to manage access and govern the content delivered to young children through social media, many popular social media applications have implemented an age gate. For example, Instagram, a widely used outlet of social media, has an age limit of 13+ for its users. Beneficial as the age limit is, there is nothing that prevents a child from simply lying about their age or creating a fake Instagram account (known as a “finsta”). The obvious reaction is to prevent the child from using social media entirely, but this will most likely backfire, due to the fact that restricting something often makes it more desirable. So, if a child finds a way to use social media behind their parents’ backs, the child has essentially created an unmonitorable account.

The most effective solution to control a child’s social media interactions is to simply help them understand the detriments and risks that are inherent in this powerful medium. The resulting increased awareness, along with active parental monitoring, will provide a much better outcome.

Some of the new controls that have been implemented have been compiled in this article ( Essentially, the new controls struggle to filter and protect children from the unwanted side of the internet but are useful tools regardless.