Kids may be better at navigating the Internet than their parents, but they often need help when it comes to navigating their online reputations. After all, kids are used to sharing everything online—from their daily activities, to their personal views, and exactly what they think about members of their social circle. But what they may not realize is that everything they post and share affects their online reputation.
Before the Internet, a reputation was something that was established locally and shaped by a person’s community. In today’s digital age, personal reputations can be formed primarily online, and extend globally.
Almost everything your child does can be tracked online, especially if they use social networking sites such as Facebook or Twitter where no information is ever permanently deleted. Posting personal information and photos can be fun and convenient, but it can also lead to identity theft, cyberbullying, or hurtful gossip. What’s more, mistakes and triumphant memories that used to fade over time in the real world are now archived on social networking sites, in the form of posts and updates, and can be found in online searches, for all to see. Potentially forever. And because we are all connected on the Internet, your child’s online reputation can affect not just your child, but also your family, friends and employer.
Your child’s online reputation can consist of anything that they’ve posted on blogs, forums and social networks— which are archived by search engines and can still be accessed years later—as well as the information that others have posted about them. Your child’s online interactions can even affect their ability to get an internship or job later in life.
It’s important to talk to kids about protecting their online reputations by following these simple tips:
- Tell your child not to reveal personal information—They should know not to share their address, full birthday and other personal details online. They also need to understand that if they share too much, cybercriminals can potentially steal their identity or use this information to impersonate them.
- Do regular searches for your child—This lets you see what others are saying about them, and if there’s anyone impersonating them. Try to go beyond basic Google search and search sites like Facebook and Twitter, and any forums that they may have used in the past. If you find unflattering photos or information about your child online, see if you can get them taken down by contacting the person who posted them.
- Let your child set their own reputation—Tell them to resist the urge to engage in arguments or criticize others online. Words said in person can be forgotten over time, but online comments will be there forever and could prove embarrassing later on.
- Help your child understand that others influence their reputation—Tell them that even if they think they’re projecting a squeaky clean image online, people in their network who post controversial comments or unflattering photos could affect their reputation. They need to keep an eye on the kind of content their contacts are posting to make sure it doesn’t negatively impact them.
- Establish some ground rules in case kids are fuzzy about what not to post. No nude or semi-nude photos or videos. No pictures of doing drugs, drinking, or having sex. Since kids don’t know who will see that information or how it could get passed on, it’s just too risky, even if they think they’re being “cute.”
- Talk about other risky behavior too, like having sexually explicit conversations in chat rooms with people they don’t know.
- Whatever kids post – whether they do it anonymously or not – they need to be accountable for it. Remind them that what goes around comes around. If they spread a rumor, send a photo someone sent them which was meant to be private, or talk trash about a teacher, it’s likely that someone will find out that they posted it. And they could get in trouble with the school – or even law enforcement.
- If kids are creating avatars, make sure they aren’t making stereotyped or racially charged decisions. Prejudice is as real in cyberspace as it is in the offline world. And even with avatars, kids need to know that just because they’re disguised doesn’t mean they can’t be identified.
- The bottom line is that if kids wouldn’t say something to someone’s face, they shouldn’t say or post it online.
Most importantly, tell your child not to underestimate the influence and reach of what they do online. Kids should know that anything they do on the Internet is public knowledge, so they need to keep it positive.