Online reputation is everything to teens, especially when their social lives exist almost entirely online. Much of what teens do and say online is guided by their need for acceptance among their classmates and other peers. But with the ever-changing nature of the Internet, what happens when a teen’s reputation gets away from them and seems to take on a life of its’ own?
Without proper management, just a few simple mistakes posted online could follow your teen years down the road, and even affect potential employment opportunities. While there are many things you and your teen can do to keep their online name in good standing, here are the top three things we think are important:
Get Some Privacy
Teach teens to utilize privacy settings on their blogs and social networks. Many teens may not know where to draw the line between public and private, so sit down together and set up ground rules of what’s okay to share and what needs to be kept personal.
Think Twice, Post Once
Encourage your teen to manage shared information and to take down posts that reveal too much or anything that could be considered cyberbullying. If they wouldn't post it on the wall at school, say it to someone's face, or show it to their grandparent, then they shouldn’t put it online.
Be Proactive, Not Reactive
If something negative is posted about your teen online, urge them to avoid retaliation, which will only worsen the situation. Instead, teach them how to request the removal of any offensive information. Social networks have safety features that allow a user to report offensive material and block unfriendly users if needed. Some even have unique features (Facebook’s Social Reporting feature, for example) that will alert someone in the user’s community, such as a parent or teacher.
Taking these three steps will help to protect your teen (and their reputation) online, but these are by no means “final steps”. The Internet is fluid and constantly changing, just like your teen’s social life, and therefore needs to be monitored on a regular basis. Parental monitoring software can help you keep an eye on what’s going on in your teen’s life, but there are also ways your teen can monitor their online social activity. Have them set up a Google alert of their own name. They can set it up to e-mail them with the results daily, weekly or monthly and then they can review and react accordingly.
And when your teen reaches the age where they are beginning to look for jobs or apply to colleges, they can take additional steps to manage their online reputation. They can actively promote themselves and their professional strengths online – using their full names, this time – on professional social networks such as LinkedIn.
With more of their social life revolving around the online world, teens need to constantly think about their own online reputation. Ask your teen to think about how their actions affect others and how those actions will affect their future, personal and professional. As a parent, you can help provide direction to your teen in a time when they may not have the necessary foresight to think about the long-term effects before they press “send.”