If you think it is tough being a parent in today’s digitally-connected world, imagine what it is like being a teen.
Just think back to the most painful judgment error, awkward, embarrassing or reputation-damaging incident you experienced when you were a teen. Now imagine if that moment was documented in a video, text or photo and sent all over campus, to friends or family, or to after-school acquaintances? A negative digital footprint can cause indelible, irreparable harm to a teen’s public reputation and sense of self-worth for an eternity.
In “Raising Humans in a Digital World: Helping Kids Build a Healthy Relationship with Technology” (HarperCollins Leadership/ Dec. 18), author and Cyberwise co-founder Diana Graber writes, “Increasingly, what kids post online and what others post about them (i.e., their ’digital reputations”) influences their future. According to a recent annual Kaplan Test Prep survey, more than two-thirds of colleges (68 per- cent) say it’s ’fair game’ to visit an applicant’s social media profile to help them decide who gets in. Nearly one in ten of the colleges surveyed said they had revoked an incoming student’s offer based on something they found online. [“Kaplan Test Prep Survey Finds Colleges and Applicants Agree: Social Media is Fair Game in the Admissions Process,” Kaplan Test Prep (April 17, 2018).]
At the same time, "as human beings we are all hard-wired to connect," says Jerri Lynn Hogg, Ph.D., Director of Fielding Graduate University's Media Psychology program. "Adolescents are focused on their peer relationships. What is less obvious and important to a teen is the longevity of those posts, texts, and comments and their long-term impact."
Since it’s so tough being a teen today, here are some guidelines that can help you help your teen:
1) FOLLOW ME: Be a good role model. Before posting online, ask yourself if you are okay with other parents, teachers, or future employers viewing what you post. Many kids are “friends” online with their parents, and how you manage your own social media communications sets the tone for their behaviors. Avoid negative or offensive comments and posts. Oversharing can be risky and may actually hurt your kids’ online reputation.
Keep in mind this goes beyond personal sharing too. Your political, religious or controversial posts don’t just impact your own reputation, they impact your child’s as well. Sue Scheff, author of the new bestseller, “Shame Nation" explains that adult cyberbullying and the way stories are posted online by adults can have a profound impact on kids. “You may think your words are innocent,” says Scheff. “In fact, you might not even think twice about what you say. But to a child who looks up to you, your actions can encourage them to behave the same way.”
2) BE A HOMESTEADER: Help your kids get an early start on shaping their personal brand online. “Digital real estate” has become a serious business and 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. Furthermore, as recommended by reputation management.com, parents should encourage their adolescent kids “to claim popular social profiles that people may use to research them in the future. For college or career-bound high school students, creating professional profiles on LinkedIn to share education and internship experience helps communicate their qualifications during the admission and application process.”
3) TRACKING TO AVOID HACKING: Keep an eye on your teen’s social media profiles. It is a good idea to “friend” or “follow” your children, but don’t be so invasive that it appears you are stalking. Explain to them it is your responsibility as a parent to make sure they are using digital devices and platforms safely and wisely. Consider setting up a Google alert for regular updates to keep track of their web mentions, news, and possibly identity theft.
You should also periodically check search engines for your child’s name and online IDs to see what’s appearing online. Remove negative remarks, photos, etc. as soon as discovered. Continue to maintain a watch on their digital footprint until they are old enough maintain it for themselves. Using parental control software like Mobicip is a great way to help you keep tabs on your child's online activities, block dangerous sites, and protect kids from online bullying. It is easy to use and economical, and an essential add-on, especially if you will be handing a connected device to a younger child or ‘tween.
4) SHARING ISN'T ALWAYS CARING: For most adults, “knowledge is power,” but for today’s youth, “shared knowledge is power.” It is okay for kids to share some things, but they need guidance on how to do it safely. A recent report revealed that one in five teens had shared a password with a friend. 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 our “Fun with Passwords” blog in our CyberWise Reputation Learning Hub for some ideas on how to make safe passwords.)
5) NO "CONTROL Z" ONLINE: There is no delete button on the Internet. Just like Vegas, what happens online, stays online. Remember: It’s not just words that travel, but a picture says a thousand words, and videos sometimes say even more. In fact, according to research compiled by 3M, visuals are processed 60,000 times faster than text and gain much greater retention. HubSpot’s social-media scientist Dan Zarrella reports that tweets with images are 94% more likely to be retweeted than tweets without, which means your kids’ selfie snaps and videos are speeding along the information highway at an alarming rate.
6) SHHHHH! To help ensure that your child never has his or her information stolen, teach the importance of keeping personal information (such as full birth date, phone number, and address) out of social networking profiles.
7) DON'T LET TROLLS TAKE CONTROL: “Being teased, mocked or even bullied isn't anything new," says Scheff in Psychology Today. "What has changed is how the message can be spread, be magnified and permanently recorded, all thanks to the Internet. Being called “fat and ugly” or having one vicious troll trash a reputation can literally tear a person to shreds—perhaps not physically, but certainly emotionally. The way your teens respond to bullying can also impact their online reputation for years to come." Check out the handy downloadable infographic from cyberbullying,org for “10 Top Teen Tips for Teens” when it comes to handling cyberbullying responses safely and wisely.
Writing credit: Cynthia Lieberman is co-founder, CyberWise.org and owner of Lieberman Communications, a content marketing and PR consultancy firm for Fortune 500 companies. Equipped with a graduate degree in Media Psychology and Social Change, Lieberman is a Board of Director for the National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE). She teaches Social Media Marketing, Entertainment PR and Influencer Marketing at UCLA and is co-authoring a book on influencer marketing, “The Influencer Code” for Hatherleigh Press (2019).