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Tips for teenage online reputation management

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by Jennifer Bridges  @JenBridgesRD

Teenagers using social media

This post has been modified to reflect new information since its original publication.

Today’s teens have grown up connected to the Internet, and they practically live on social media. This makes them experts on how to behave online, right?

Wrong. While young people might understand how to use the latest apps and online games, they don’t realize that what they do and say on the Internet can negatively impact their online reputation—or why they should care. 

Therefore, it’s up to you to help your teenager avoid any reputational missteps. Here are some reasons why teenagers need to curate a positive online reputation and the best ways to help them do so.

Why teens need a good online reputation

Today, people make their first impressions online. This means that what the Internet says about you can help you or hurt you, depending on what people find when they search for your name. 

And they are, in fact, searching for you. College admissions officers, insurance companies, even potential dates routinely look up individuals online to judge what kind of person they are. Hiring managers are checking out job candidates on social media too, and over half are finding information online that convinces them not to hire someone.

Unfortunately, teens don’t have the natural caution that older people, who aren’t digital natives, tend to possess regarding their online interactions. Moreover, their developing brains haven’t matured enough to connect their actions to future repercussions. This results in a lack of inhibition in online behavior, which can lead to serious real-life consequences. 

For example:

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  • In 2017, 10 Harvard freshmen had their acceptances rescinded after the university discovered some rude memes the boys shared on a Facebook group chat.
  • Parkland school shooting survivor Kyle Kashuv lost his spot at Harvard after racist comments he made when he was 16 surfaced in 2019.
  • A profane tweet cost a high school basketball player his state’s Player of the Year award. It was only online for 15 minutes.

“Adolescents are focused on their peer relationships. What is less obvious and important to a teen is the longevity of those posts, texts, and comments and their long-term impact.”—Jerri Lynn Hogg, Ph.D., director of the Media Psychology program at Fielding Graduate University

Ways to protect your teen’s reputation

Teenage online reputation management strategy has two important facets: what your child posts online and what others post online about him or her. As such, you need to address both areas to keep your teen’s reputation looking its best.

Here are some ways to do so:

  • Open up the lines of communication: 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 their privacy, you should talk with them non-judgmentally about their online reputation. When communication flows freely between you and your kids, they will be more likely to come to you with questions and report interactions that don’t feel right.
  • Make sure you know about all of your child’s social media profiles: Often young people set up duplicate profiles: one that their parents can see, and one that they only share with their friends.
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  • Teach your teen to watch what he or she posts: Teens, or anyone really, should never post anything that they wouldn’t want thousands of people to see. Once you post something online, it’s there forever, even if you immediately take it down. This is because there’s always the chance that someone might have taken a screenshot of your post before you deleted it.

“Never put a temporary emotion on the permanent Internet. Anger is fleeting—online is forever.”—Sue Scheff, founder of helpyourteens.com and author of Shame Nation

  • Monitor your teen’s reputation: Regularly do an online search for your child’s name to see what comes up. Once you know who is making them look bad, you can start the process of trying to get the negative content removed.
  • Clean up your teen’s digital footprint: Sit down with your teen and go through his or her own social media posts. Delete anything that doesn’t reflect well on your child.
  • Tighten their privacy settings: Teens don’t worry about who sees their posts. In fact, only one-third of teens report deleting or restricting access to their social media posts out of fear that the content could come back to haunt them later in life. As such, you need to ensure your teen understands the risks and knows how to adjust his or her privacy settings to the highest level of security available. For instance, on Facebook, make sure your child’s settings are set to “friends only,” and verify that everyone he or she friends on social media is someone he or she actually knows in real life.
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  • Stress the importance of kindness: The anonymity of the Internet makes it easy to say mean things. But an unkind comment can quickly take on a life of its own on social media. As such, teach your teen to never say something to someone on the Internet—or in a text—that he or she wouldn’t say to that person’s face. What your teen says about others online can reflect on him or her for years to come.
  • Turn off tagging: If someone tags your teen in an unflattering post on social media, show them how to remove the tag. It’s also a good idea to turn off tagging altogether, so your teen’s name won’t be associated with any pictures that he or she doesn’t control.
  • Have your teen post his or her own content: Help your teen set up his or her own website and start a blog that lets him or her highlight their talents, awards, charitable activities, or other things that could set him or her apart from the crowd. Because Google considers a person’s own website to be of more value to searchers than things other people post about an individual, your teen’s website will rank higher on his or her search results page over time. And this means your teen’s content can end up pushing negative items off onto the second page, where few people ever look.

For more information

To learn more about how to give your teenager a reputational advantage in life, please give us a call. We are happy to provide a free consultation to discuss your particular issues. We also offer articles on a variety of online reputation topics, including: