There are numerous websites and campaigns, such as the NSPCC and ChildLine, who are there to help prevent grooming; they advise parents and young people on how to stay safe whilst using the internet. However, these websites and campaigns don't stop it. Even with all the advice and help out there, including visiting schools and teachers advising pupils, it's still happening. Parents whose children who have just started using the internet don't think that this could be a problem, because "nothing would ever happen to my child". This is very untrue and when a child starts to use the internet, parents should talk to them about how to stay safe online. But even when advice is given, it doesn't stop this from happening. Take my experience, for example. When I first started to use the internet, my parents had a talk with me about internet safety; who not to talk to, and when to know to come away from it. So after this, I thought nothing could happen to me. I started to use chatrooms, as many of my friends were at the time, and started speaking to different people. Most of whom were older than me. Me being naive, I didn't think this was a problem. However, my parents soon found out who I had been talking to and what they had been asking me to do - it was essentially grooming. I'm lucky it didn't go any further, and it stopped when it did. It could have escalated into something much bigger.
Ever since then, I've been wary of using the internet, especially social media. Not only does grooming/stalking occur via social media, bullying does also. My parents have always taught me never to speak to strangers over the internet, because you never know who they are. And this is accurate - you could be speaking to someone who you think is your age, however they may be faking who they are and could be much, much older than you.
So, is the internet really a bad place?
It's only bad if you make it bad.
I have always stuck by that saying. If you make the internet a bad place, then of course it's going to be bad! Parents always tell you to never speak to people you don't know online, because you never know what may happen. However, what they don't tell you is that through talking to people online, you may meet people that become your best friends.
Through a recovery community for mental health, I have met some incredible people, some of whom have become my best friends. I couldn't name everyone who I've met online, because the list would be endless! However some have been there for me more than ever and I couldn't thank them enough. I've met people who suffer from a variety of mental health problems; depression, bipolar, personality disorders, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, schizophrenia, psychosis, the list goes on. These people are so important to me, because they're the small majority that understand. They don't say, "I understand" because they care or they feel sorry for me, they actually do understand. And although they may not understand fully, because they're not in my head and they may not suffer from the same illness as me, but to some extent they do. They know what it's like to have to battle with your own mind 24/7, they know what it's like to feel alone even when you're in a room full of people, and they know what it's like to want to both live and die at the same time. I've witnessed mental illness break these people down; I've seen them utterly defeated by their own mind. Not only this, but I've seen these people bounce back stronger than ever, ready to fight their illness/es. These "strangers" are always telling me that they're there for me, any time of day or night. They've seen me at my best and my worst. They've seen me happy, smiling and laughing. But they've also seen me when I'm having breakdowns and running away and hurting myself. Some of these people have even had to call the police for me, because they're terrified that this time I'm going to go too far. Let me tell you one thing:
I couldn't have survived without them.
I couldn't have survived without these people by my side. Without them, I don't think I'd be alive right now. They've supported me through my best and worst times, and not once have they left me because I'm "too much" or they can't be bothered. They've encouraged me to seek help when I needed to, or they've sought help for me. When adults warn you of the dangers of the internet, they should also tell you that you could meet your best friends online, because I have. Some of these "strangers" have now become my closest friends. Even though they may live hours away from me, sometimes the other side of the country, I've created memories with them. From phone calls, FaceTimes, inside jokes, creating nicknames for each other, to actually meeting. Yes, a few people from the internet I've met in person, and I cannot tell you what an amazing feeling it is.
I can't thank my internet friends more, for sticking by me in my journey to mental health recovery.
Sometimes the people who are thousands of miles away from you can make you feel better than the people who are right beside you.