Online Reputation and Teens

It’s the holidays and that can mean more time online.

We are becoming a broken record as we try to explain to our kids what they post online can potentially affect their future.

The Internet is a wonderful educational tool but can also work against us if not properly used.  I like to use the phrase, “the Internet is like a gun, you have to learn to use it responsibly.”

The dangers of technology, especially for kids and teens, has been in the media for the past several years.  Whether it is cyberbullying or Internet predators, our country is not a stranger to these horrific events.

For teens looking forward to a higher education and especially those in need of scholarships to help them finance college, they need to think before they post on their social networking sites such as Facebook.

According to a 2011 Kaplan study, 80% of college admissions are using search engines and a students’ social media presence to screen their applicants which means your college application aren’t the only papers being reviewed about your child.  Do you know what your digital footprint is saying about you?

Now let’s talk money.  Especially in today’s economy many families and students are applying for as many scholarships are they can.  Recent reports, like college admissions, are also using students’ social media presence to determine whether they deserve the scholarship.

Facebook is obviously the largest social networking site that many use.  Isn’t it time to encourage your teen to sit down and clean it up?  Especially with the latest Facebook Timeline, it is simply a click away to see pictures or comments that simply just don’t need to be there.  Remember, unfortunately all your posts and comments on your friends pages are still lingering in cyberspace too.  So now is the time to seriously stop and think before you post that silly comment.  Is it really worth a scholarship?

You may think because your child’s Facebook is set on private you are safe.  Don’t be fooled.  If it’s online, it’s usually public information – remember your child is friends with friends that may not have their privacy settings set as high.

Don’t risk losing a scholarship or a college of your choice for a dumb remark online or a compromising photo!

3 Tips to maintain your teen’s digital resume:

  • Set up your Google, MSN, Bing, Yahoo, Twilert alerts (always know when there is something online about you so you can address it immediately). It only takes a few minutes, it is free and can save you a lot of reputation repair later on.
  • Buy your own URL in your teen’s name.  This can be less than $10.00 through GoDaddy and you can own your own online real estate.  Building a site can be easy and if you can do it with your personal interests, it sets the tone  for your future.  Weebly.com is a free service to build your website.
  • Create a Blog about you and your interests.  This is free.  Use your name as the URL.  You can use Blogger.com (Blogspot) or WordPress.com.  Both are user friendly and again, create it about you and your interests.  Keep your grammar and spelling in check.

Check these examples out!

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Teaching Teens About Online Responsibility

If you are the parent of a teenager and you have a home computer, then it’s likely that he or she would be surfing the Web 24 hours a day — if you allow it. There’s also a strong possibility that your teen is hiding their online activities. BusinessWire.com released a study conducted by McAfee, a dedicated security technology company, showing that 70 percent of teens hide their Internet usefrom their parents.

The study broke down how teens were hiding their  Web activity: 15 percent of the teens in the study had hacked into a social network; 30 percent had pirated movies or music; and 48.1 percent had cheated on tests, looking up answers on their phones. The study evaluated the awareness of parents and how much they knew about their child’s computer use, finding that more than 70 percent of the parents didn’t see anything abnormal or alarming about their teen’s Internet use.

So, how can parents stay on top of their kids’ online activity without being overbearing, thus encouraging their teens to conceal more? Here are a few suggestions we think will build a stronger connection between you and your teen, while also teaching them the importance of responsible Internet use.

Surf the Internet with your Teenager

Let your kid know that not everything is off limits; go to YouTube and watch viral and funny videos together. If you see something that makes you or your teen obviously uncomfortable, talk about it, and let them know they can trust you and you won’t punish them for their openness.

Keep Sensitive Information Private

Let your teen know that while you want to be in the know about what they are doing and that you can be trusted, the rest of the world on the Internet cannot be trusted. Let your teen know what the consequences are to sharing private information such as phone numbers, addresses, social security numbers, bank account information or other sensitive information. Ask them to be honest with you about whether they have shared private details already and with whom.

Empower Your Teen

Let your teen know you view them as an intelligent, responsible young adult who is capable of making the right choice. Deanna of MommyGaga.com advises parents to take an educational tactic in teaching their teens to be responsible users, rather than the prison guard tactic the “Today Show” presents. Deanna advises parents to teach their kids how to use common sense and behave accordingly, so as to not come to a point where you’re policing your kids’ computer use.

What if it’s Gone Too Far?

If you’re phones are tapped, the Feds have paid you a visit regarding wire fraud and your teen is spending 80 hours a week holed up in his or her bedroom, maybe it’s time to use some enforcement. Dr. Michele Borba’s article on Today.com suggests that parents let their kids know that the parent will be online and in charge. This may mean you have spyware hooked up to the family computer, or that you will be in the room while they are online. Having all Internet devices in a family room, and not hidden, can also discourage your kid from doing anything that you wouldn’t approve.

As always, it’s important to be honest and open with your child about why you are protecting them. If you explain why it is important to discuss their online interactions, then they will be more likely to trust you and less likely to think you are just trying to make their lives miserable.

Contributor:  John Hill.  He  is a former print journalist who converted to digital when he fell in love with blogging for larger audiences. He writes about health, fitness and medical topics.