Blogs, Facebook, Myspace, and other internet sites that allow people to publicize information about themselves are becoming more and more popular. Mary Madden, a Senior Research Specialist at the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, explains in a recent report that search engines and social media sites play a central role in building one’s identity online, and she emphasizes the importance of people being conscientious about what they publicize through connected technology1. Parents can help their children both understand the concept of a digital footprint and establish a positive online reputation if they keep current, keep communicating, and keep checking.
The Pew Internet Project found that "two-thirds of online teens are content creators–meaning they create videos, post photos, write blogs and message boards"1. While these activities serve as a way to participate in social networking, teens run the risk of posting something they might later regret. According to one study, 19% of adults google other people to learn information about professional contacts (coworkers, competition, etc), and 11% use Google as a tool to weed out applicants for jobs1. The pictures and comments teens post on myspace, facebook, and other platforms may permanently connect them with unprofessional, immature, and inappropriate behavior.
Involve your children in the process of keeping current, let them show you how to sign-up for the social networks they use and how each network is different. "Friend" your children, so they know you are involved and interested in what they are posting.
Encourage children to post things about themselves which are sincere, helpful and constructive. Help your children understand that although they may not even be aware of it, what they do online creates a reputation that will communicate to their friends, potential future employers, and others about who they are. Together, google their name to see what comes up, and ask them to allow you to view their Facebook account, Myspace account, blog etc. Continue monitoring their online presence, and be upfront with them about the fact that you will do so–discussing these expectations creates a sense of accountability.
As you regularly supervise children’s online actions, give them feedback. Evaluate the tone in which they write about themselves, and emphasize the importance of avoiding posting or writing material that would be considered distasteful or unattractive to an admissions advisor or employer.
It is a good idea to subscribe to have Google notify you any time your child’s name is posted. To do this, go to Google Alerts and ’subscribe’ to your child’s name.
Remember, if the media posted is positive and constructive, an online reputation can benefit a young person in many ways. A positive online reputation will convey to the public that he or she is responsible, high achieving, and/or involved in the community.
1Madden, Mary, and Smith, Aaron. "Reputation Management and Social Media." Pew Internet and American Life Project (2010, May 26). Retrieved from http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2010/Reputation-Management.aspx