If you have a child or teen that uses the internet on a regular basis, you’ve probably taught them about the importance of choosing a secure password and protecting their personal information online. However, you may not have talked to them about the importance of choosing a safe screen name. You yourself may not realize just how revealing a screen name can be. Here are some tips on screen name safety that you should definitely share with your child.
Avoid Real Names and Places
You and your child probably know that they should avoid using their real full name as a screen name. However, many people think that it’s safe to shorten the name, such as a first name plus a middle and last initial, or a nickname plus a last name. Even those, however, may give away too much information. It’s safer to be “MikeCJ” than it is to be “Michael C. Jones”, but it would be safer still to choose another name and set of initials entirely. This is especially true if your child has an unusual or uncommon name.
Your child should also avoid using their real location in their screen name. It’s much easier for someone to track a person down if their screen name gives a definite indication of where they live. The more specific the location, is the more vulnerable your child is. For example, the screen name “CaliforniaGirl” is safer than “LosAngelesGirl”, and even that is safer than “BaysideHighSchoolGirl” — basically, the more general, the better. However, it’s best to avoid naming a location at all.
Don’t Use Identifying Numbers
On many platforms, you’ll find that the screen name that you’ve chosen carefully has been taken already. Unless your child comes up with some very creative screen names, chances are that they’ll end up having to add numbers to their screen names. Numbers can be surprisingly revealing, and it’s important to tell your child to avoid using numbers that can identify them.
Many people don’t even realize how identifying numbers can be. However, if you think about it, numbers can tell another person a lot about your child. Their age, their birth date or year, their area code or zip code, and even their expected graduation year are some of the numbers that your child should avoid using.
Watch Out For Overly Descriptive Screen Names
Even if your child completely avoids any reference to their real identity, they can give away too much information in their screen names with the words that they choose to describe themselves. Online, predators look for certain clues that let them know that a child or teenager is vulnerable. A screen name that gives the wrong impression or betrays too much of what your child is feeling can put your child at risk.
For example, teenagers who try to adopt sexy-sounding screen names can come across as too adult – or worse, as a teenager trying to sound too adult – and can attract the wrong kind of attention. Another example is a teenager who uses words in their screen name that indicate that they’re feeling sad, angry, depressed, isolated, or rebellious. While it may seem like a harmless way for your teen to express themselves, some predators will look for these kinds of words in a screen name, because it lets them know that a teen is vulnerable and may be easy to persuade into taking risks. It’s better for your child to use a neutral-sounding screen name.
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