By Cynthia Lieberman
Author Cynthia Lieberman is Co-founder of Cyberwise and Cyberwise Certified, two sites dedicated to helping parents, teachers, and kids understand and use digital media safely and wisely.
Raising teens and tweens in today’s digitally connected world is complicated. Parents often worry about what their kids are doing online. That’s why the best way to combat cyberbullying, online predators, and to protect the online/offline reputation of kids is to become “cyberwise” – not just about the tools, but about behaviors behind them.
The first impression we give to the world is frequently online. Everything we post on the Internet, and everything posted about us by others, contributes to our overall reputation. When positive, it’s great, but when not, it can be disastrous. As Cyber-safety expert Sue Scheff summed up in a recent Huffington Post article, “Drunk driving literally ends lives. But digital drama can potentially end a bright future for your child and their dreams.”
A teen’s digital footprint can impact their college opportunities (and future employment). For instance, this recent study reports that 30% of college officers view the social media pages of applicants.
Here are a few tips to help parents manage their child’s online reputation:
1) Role Model: Many kids are “friends” online with their parents, and it’s just as important to be a good role model online as it is in real life. Oversharing can be risky; think before you post photos and information about your life, and especially about theirs. Your political, religious or controversial posts don’t just impact your own reputation, they impact your child’s reputation and behaviors as well.
2) Establish a Foothold: Digital real estate is becoming a serious business. Shocking as it may seem, it’s smart to register a domain for your child at birth. This helps them establish a foothold online before someone else does, and later they will thank you for it.
3) Manage Their Digital Footprint: Periodically check search engines for your child’s name and online IDs to see what’s appearing there. Remove negative remarks, photos, etc. as soon as discovered. Consider setting up a Google alert for regular updates of their web mentions, news, etc. Continue maintaining their digital footprint until they are old enough maintain it for themselves.
4) Make Passwords Private: For most adults, “knowledge is power,” but for today’s youth, “shared knowledge is power.” It is ok for kids to share some things, but they need guidance on how to do it safely. Recent reports reveal that nearly 50% of 14-17 year-olds share their passwords. Teens commonly do this as a symbol of trust, but they run the risk of having their passwords misused if they have a falling out. No lecture needed, just chat with your kids and find out what they already know about identity theft and how to avoid it. (See the blog “Fun With Passwords” for some ideas on how to make safe passwords.)
5) Keep Reminding, “There is no delete button on the Internet”: Like in Las Vegas, what happens online, stays online. And remember: It’s not just words that travel, but a picture says a thousand words, and videos sometimes say even more.
If you need help understanding how all of this can impact your child’s (and your) online reputation, you might consider taking our newest online course: Online Reputation Management. It’s easy, fun, and will equip you with proven strategies to be a successful online reputation manager, and to pass these valuable skills on to your kids.