We’re living digitized lives these days. Everything we say and do is captured, uploaded and archived across a number of connected devices.
That means that the video of you doing the electric slide in a banana suit at Aunt Marie’s 50th birthday party has a potential shelf life of forever once it has been uploaded to the web. Although your aunt has since deleted the embarrassing video, who knows how many people have found it and posted it somewhere else?
But enough about you—the real issue is how do you manage your child’s online reputation? With this inability to ultimately govern our data files, we need to embrace the importance of a positive online reputation and communicate that message to our youth.
Blogs, Facebook, and other internet sites that allow people to publicize information about themselves are becoming more and more popular. Mary Madden, Senior Research Specialist at the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, explains in a recent report that search engines and social media sites play a central role in building one’s identity online, and she emphasizes the importance of people being conscientious about what they publicize through connected technology . Parents can help their children both understand the concept of a digital footprint and establish a positive online reputation if they keep current, keep communicating, and keep checking.
The Pew Internet Project found that “two thirds of online teens are content creators–meaning they create videos, post photos, write blogs and message boards” . While these activities serve as a way to participate in social networking, teens run the risk of posting something they might later regret. According to one study, 19% of adults google other people to learn information about professional contacts (coworkers, competition, etc), and 11% use Google as a tool to weed out applicants for jobs . The pictures and comments teens post on blogs, Facebook, and other platforms may permanently connect them with unprofessional, immature, and inappropriate behavior.
Involve your children in the process of keeping current, let them show you how to sign-up for the social networks they use and how each network is different. “Friend” your children, so they know you are involved and interested in what they are posting.
Encourage children to post things about themselves which are sincere, helpful and constructive. Help your children understand that although they may not even be aware of it, what they do online creates a reputation that will communicate to their friends, potential future employers, and others about who they are. Together, google their name to see what comes up, and ask them to allow you to view any social networking accounts, photo sharing accounts (e.g., Flickr, Pinterest), blog, etc. Continue monitoring their online presence, and be upfront with them about the fact that you will do so–discussing these expectations creates a sense of accountability.
With the appropriate supervision, your kids will be seen as thought leaders, community participants, innovators and humanitarians. They will be recognized for their ideas and their ability to reach out globally. The Internet is a tool that offers boundless, attainable opportunities; they just need your help to make it happen.
It is a good idea to subscribe to have Google notify you any time your child’s name is posted. To do this, go to Google Alerts and ‘subscribe’ to your child’s name.
Remember, if the media posted is positive and constructive, an online reputation can benefit a young person in many ways. A positive online reputation will convey to the public that he or she is responsible, high achieving, and/or involved in the community.