How Do Parents Let Kids be Kids While Protecting Their Fledging Reputations?
Today’s teens interact very differently than previous generations. The world they live in is increasingly wired, and youth are almost continuously connected to their peers through a vast network of electronic media. Although media has bombarded parents for years with messages about the dangers of online interaction, many parents fail to realize that there are more risks inherent with continuous use of electronic media than the threat of Internet predators.
Internet reputation management, electronic privacy, and cyberbullying all need to factor into how parents manage their children’s time spent with various forms of communications media. This article examines teenage online reputation management and how parents can allow their kids to communicate with their peers while still protecting their children online.
Check out how your kids interact on social network websites
Kids and teens use online media very differently than adults. Although many adults venture into social platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, others only make use a few forms of electronic media. Technically savvy teens and ‘tweens', however, engage across a sophisticated array of communications networks that utilize multiple electronic platforms. Some of these forms of communications include:
- Social networking websites, such as Facebook
- Blogs like Blogger.com
- Private chat platforms including Omegle and Chatroulette
- Chatrooms such as Xat
- Massive multiplayer online games like Runescape and World of Warcraft
- Voiceover IP (VoIP) platforms such as Skype
- Personal messenger services
- Console gaming networks including Xbox Live and PlayStation Network
Because kids are so comfortable with electronic media, it is necessary for parents to teach them how to be safe online. Kids engage in these types of communications via the use of multiple devices including computers and tablets, cell phones, MP3 players, and webcams. With all of the methods that your kids use to communicate electronically with one another, how can you help them make wise choices that protect their online reputation and electronic privacy?
Teach your kids how to be safe
Kids today grew up with the Internet and cellular networks as an everyday part of their lives. Because they’ve been around it since birth, many youth lack the natural caution with these technologies that older generations experienced as cell phones and the World Wide Web became ubiquitous. Because kids are so comfortable with electronic media, it is necessary for parents to teach them how to be safe online.
Parents should include discussions about online safety with their children just as they would discuss stranger danger, alcohol, tobacco, and drug use. Regular, age-appropriate discussions that include basic rules and safety are essential for helping your kids navigate the world of electronic media securely and appropriately. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children offers several tip sheets to help start discussions about safe Internet usage with your children and teenage online reputation management.
Monitor their online reputation and use
Monitoring is an essential part of online reputation management and safety. Keep your kids’ computer and console gaming systems in a family area instead of allowing them to use these items in the privacy of their own rooms. Monitor social networking accounts and other websites that your children use to make sure that their interactions are appropriate.
You may also want to search for your child’s name online occasionally to see what others are posting about them. Use Google, Bing, and other search engines to do so. If you see something suspicious, discuss it with them in an open and non-judgmental fashion.
Protect their electronic privacy
Finding information about someone online is very easy. With even a small amount of identifying information, you can quickly learn a great deal. The more information your kids put online, the easier it is to locate them.
Teach your children never to share any private identifying information on the Internet including telephone numbers, email addresses, home addresses, Social Security numbers, or dates of birth. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children also suggests using a screen name that doesn’t identify a child’s sex and never telling another person their age, names of siblings and parents, school, town, or other personal information.
Wherever possible, your children should adjust their privacy settings to the highest level of security available. For instance, on Facebook, make sure your kids’ settings are set to friends only, and make sure that everyone they friend on such websites is someone they actually know in person. With mobile devices, don’t allow your children to use the GPS “check-ins” that many websites now have, which pinpoint your child’s location at any given moment.
Manage the reputation of your children
Teenage online reputation management strategy has two important facets: what they post online and what others post online about them. Children often don’t think about the long-term consequences of their electronic behavior; however, what winds up in cyberspace can last a lifetime. Teach your children never to post anything via electronic media that they wouldn’t want thousands of people to see.
The following are other things your children need to know:
- Never share passwords, even with a trusted friend.
- An unkind comment can take on a life of its own on electronic media. Never say something to someone on the Internet or in a text – that you wouldn’t say to his or her face. What you say about others online may reflect on you for years to come.
- If someone tags you in an unflattering post on social media, you can remove the tag.
- If someone is bullying you via electronic media, report it. This ReputationDefender Resource Center article shows you how to recognize and prevent cyberbullying.
Communicate often with your kids about online issues
As a parent, the best way to help your kids navigate electronic media is to keep the lines of communications open. Along with teaching your children about protecting privacy and managing their Internet reputation, talk with them non-judgmentally about their electronic life. When communication flows freely between you and your kids, they will be more likely to report an interaction to you that doesn’t feel right.
If you’d like help managing your child’s Internet reputation and protecting their privacy, consider working with a service such as ReputationDefender’s MyPrivacy and MyReputation bundle, which can help you discover what’s online about your child and remove private or identifying information.