October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month—a great time to check in with your family about their online safety habits. Are everyone’s devices and apps up to date with the latest security? When was the last time you reviewed your children’s online profile, or helped them update the privacy settings on their social networks?

For teens in particular, it’s important to help them prepare to deal with the “drama” that can unfold within their online social circles. While teen conflict is nothing new, today’s gossip, jokes, and arguments often play out through social media like Formspring, Twitter, and Facebook. Teens often refer to this as “drama.”

We’ve asked Linda McCarthy, online safety expert and author, to share insights about her new digital book, Digital Drama: Staying Safe While Being Social Online.

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From September 24 through 27, you can download English and Spanish versions of the ebook FREE.

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Kim Sanchez: You’ve written a number of books about online safety and security for teens. Why the focus on this audience?

Linda McCarthy: In 2009, my two teenagers destroyed the security on my home network; that was a game changer for me. I spent 15 years protecting security networks for corporations, and this happened in my house. At that moment I knew that I had to help families—kids love technology and they need help understanding the risks.

Kim Sanchez: So this was the impetus behind Digital Drama?

Linda McCarthy: Yes. The Internet is a great resource for connecting, learning, and entertainment, but these limitless possibilities also open the door to risky situations. Parents worry about their kids talking to strangers in person—online that risk is 24/7. Also, many parents feel overwhelmed by technology features and functions. Watching the kids in my house grow up on the Internet, and the challenges they (and I) faced, I felt that teens need more information on how to stay safer online.

Kim Sanchez: What are you hearing from kids about the ebook?

Linda McCarthy: The response has been great, which excites me because this is my first digital book. I’ve been writing and publishing security books for 20 years, and I love to hold a solid book in my hands, so I wasn’t sold on the ebook idea. However, teens prefer to read online and we have to be able to give kids what they want, right?

Kim Sanchez: What is an important tip you’d give teens to help them deal with digital drama?

Linda McCarthy: Know when to walk away, when NOT to respond, and when to get help.

  • Know when to walk away. When your friends start documenting their stupidity online, don’t hang around and become the star in their pictures or videos. Anything that’s posted online can stay around forever.
  • Know when NOT to respond. If “friends” start sending you bullying text messages, don’t get pulled into their drama by responding. Bullying can be a crime depending on what the bullies are doing.
  • Know when to get help. When drama is about to turn lethal or bullying is happening, reach out to a trusted adult for help. You can do it anonymously so you don’t become the next victim of the bully, and reaching out might just help someone else, too.

Kim Sanchez: How about a tip for parents that would help teens deal with digital drama?

Linda McCarthy: The most important thing I can say to parents is don’t just hand your child a new device, like a smart phone or tablet, and that’s it. Instead, set up some rules of the road together.

For example, guidelines for using a phone might include no bullying or teasing others, no texting and driving, share location cautiously, and create a positive online profile (don’t share scandalous photos). Then if drama unfolds, you can refer back to the family agreement, which might help minimize the extent of the drama.

Kim Sanchez: Your book was written for teens. Would it be useful for anyone else?

Linda McCarthy: Digital Drama has something for everyone. Parents can read it and get ideas about how to talk with their kids about online safety. Even if you don’t have kids, you’ll find guidance that will help you, a family member, or a friend. So download the ebook and share it with everyone you know.

Kim Sanchez: You’ve devoted an entire chapter to online bullying, or “cyberbullying.” Why is that?

Linda McCarthy: According to Microsoft research, 62 percent of teens have witnessed cruel behavior online. Just about every teen I talk to either knows someone who has been bullied, or has been bullied themselves. So, I’ve given ten pointers to help teens protect themselves and their friends from cyberbullying—starting with reporting it. I’m also publishing a book for parents about cyberbullying this fall: Cyberbully Upstander: My Child Is Safe. Parents need to talk with kids about bullying and why it’s important to reach out and get help when first witnessing it.

Join the Twitter conversation!

Join Microsoft and other online safety experts on September 25 at 3:00 p.m. EDT/12:00 p.m. PDT as we chat with Linda McCarthy (@ddramabook) about how her ebook can help you talk with kids about digital safety. (Use #ChatSTC to join.)