Whether your child has been socially active online for a while now or you just handed your young one their first ever smartphone, now is an excellent time to think about managing their online reputation.
The concept may sound overwhelming, but doing it is easy. Since you're no doubt talking to your kids about how to keep themselves safe online, you might as well open up about online reputations and how to create or maintain a positive one.
What's an online reputation?
An online reputation is a culmination of what you post online about yourself and what other people post about you. Essentially, it's your child's online presence seen from the point-of-view of other people. Your child must understand what they should and shouldn't be sharing online, publicly on social media, or privately in chat.
It's equally crucial for your child to understand that what they do online can adversely affect others and themselves offline.
Why should your child manage their online reputation?
In principle, managing a personal online reputation is similar to how businesses manage theirs. Business owners know the value of having a good reputation online—it opens up excellent business opportunities, and increases trust and loyalty of the brand.
A positive reputation is important to individuals, too. Otherwise, people miss out on job opportunities they like or may not get admitted to good schools, among others. The first scenario is particularly true since employers often check applicants' social accounts to get a glimpse of who they are as part of the hiring process.
Online reputation management 101
Here are some lines of conversation you can use to help kids learn about managing their online reputation:
Think before you post
A pre-teen or a teen may already know about this, but it's essential to keep driving this home. Once something is on the internet, it can't be fully taken back, even if it's deleted. If in doubt, don't post it.
There's a story of one Twitter user who got accepted at the most coveted NASA internship. But because a tweet contained vulgar language and "NASA" was hashtagged, a former NASA engineer saw the tweet and commented on the language this user used. NASA eventually canceled the internship.
Private things should stay private, but sometimes they don't
While one should be careful about what they post online in public, your kid should also know what not to post or share in private.
Stress that just because they post something privately doesn't mean it'll remain private. Secrets get passed on, accounts get hacked, and online repositories get breached, leaking sensitive data. It's best not to share something you don't want millions of internet users to see.
Carolyn Bunting, CEO of Internet Matters, an organization that aims to teach parents on how to keep their children safe online, says it best: "A good general rule when it comes to content is the T-shirt test—if you wouldn't wear it on a T-shirt, then don't post it online."
Err on the side of caution. We've heard countless stories of inappropriate images being passed around because someone decided to trust their partner with their sensitive photos.
Be positive with how you conduct yourself online
Agree with your child that, to the best of their abilities, they will:
- Be respectful of others.
- Be kind and helpful.
- Stick to the rules.
We teach our kids these rules when navigating the real world, and the same rules should apply online.
This is also an excellent opportunity to talk to them about the many personas they might encounter online. The most notable are the bully, the troll, and the groomer.
Tell them to block a user and report them to the site they're on if they see any bullying, trolling, and grooming behavior. And it's not just social media, blocking and reporting should apply to video gaming communities with which your child is associated as well.
It's safe to assume that everyone who uses the internet has entered their name into a search engine at least once.
Searching your child's name is a good way to check what people have said about them across multiple social media posts. You can also search for their email address, account usernames, and phone numbers to see if these have made their way into some corner of the internet. And make this a regular thing.
If, say, an email address ends up in a list of leaked data that you or your child is not aware of, you now know they need to change their password and (perhaps begrudgingly) enable two-factor authentication (2FA).
Let's make it right
We all make mistakes, and we often believe such mistakes will continue to haunt our online lives. Because the internet never forgets—or at least that's what the adage says.
To a degree, that is true, as some organizations keep data about all of us, not giving us a deadline for deletion. Many internet users can now appeal to "higher powers" to be forgotten. There's a lot of reading and understanding involved in this subject, so ensure you and your child understand their rights and how they can submit a request.
Your child's past shouldn't define their future. People eventually grow up. Their thoughts and feelings about certain things change—often for the better. So if there is anything online that shows incriminating content about or from your child, make it right together by filing for takedowns.
Every internet user has a sort of brand reputation, whether or not they are aware of this. The sooner you tell your kids about online reputation and the importance of having and maintaining a good one, the better they will be at leaving positive digital footprints online early on.
More than words, parents and guardians should also model the behavior. Thankfully, it's never too late to start.