Raising teens and tweens in today’s digitally-connected world is complicated. Parents often worry about what their kids are doing online. That’s why the best way to combat cyberbullying, online predators, and to protect the online/offline reputation of kids is to teach them to become “cyberwise”—not just about the tools they use, but their behaviors on them as well.
The first impression they give to the world is frequently online. Everything they post on the Internet, and everything posted about them by others, contributes to their overall reputation. When positive, it’s great, but when not, it can be disastrous.
"As human beings we are all hard-wired to connect," says Jerri Lynn Hogg, PhD, Director of Fielding Graduate University's Media Psychology program. "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."
So here are some guidelines so you can help your teen:
1) FOLLOW ME: Be a good role model. Many kids are “friends” online with their parents, and it’s just as important to be a good role model online as it is in real life. Oversharing can be risky and your actions may actually be hurting your kids’ online reputation. Think before you post photos and information about your life, and especially about theirs. Your political, religious or controversial posts don’t just impact your own reputation, they impact your child’s reputation and behaviors as well. Sue Scheff, author of the new bestseller, “Shame Nation" explains that adult cyber bullying and the way stories are posted online by adults can have a profound impact on kids. “You may think your words are innocent,” says Scheff. “In fact, you might not even think twice about what you say. But to a child who looks up to you, your actions can encourage them to behave the same way.”
2) BE A HOMESTEADER: Parents can help their kids get an early start on shaping their personal brand online. “Digital real estate” is becoming a serious business and shocking as it may seem, it’s smart to register a domain for your child at birth. This helps them establish a foothold online before someone else does, and later they will thank you for it. Furthermore, as recommended by reputation management.com, parents should encourage their adolescent kids “to claim popular social profiles that people may use to research them in the future. For college or career-bound high school students, creating professional profiles on LinkedIn to share education and internship experience can help communicate their qualifications during the admission and application process.”
3) AVOID HACKERS, BE A TRACKER: Periodically check search engines for your child’s name and online IDs to see what’s appearing there. Remove negative remarks, photos, etc. as soon as discovered. Consider setting up a Google alert for regular updates to keep track of their web mentions, news, and possibly identity theft. Continue maintain a watch on their digital footprint until they are old enough maintain it for themselves. Using parental control software like the one Family Zone provides can also help you keep tabs on your child's online activity, block dangerous sites, and protect kids from online bullying. It is easy to use and economical, and an essential add-on, especially if you will be handing a connected device to a young child.
4) SHARING ISN'T ALWAYS CARING: For most adults, “knowledge is power,” but for today’s youth, “shared knowledge is power.” It is okay for kids to share some things, but they need guidance on how to do it safely. A recent report revealed that one in five teens had shared a password with a friend. Teens commonly do this as a symbol of trust, but they run the risk of having their passwords misused if they have a falling out. No lecture needed, just chat with your kids and find out what they already know about identity theft and how to avoid it. (See our “Fun with Passwords” blog in our CyberWise Reputation Learning Hub for some ideas on how to make safe passwords.)
5) NO "CONTROL Z" ONLINE: There's no escaping the fact that there's no delete button on the Internet. Just like Vegas, what happens online, stays online. Remember: It’s not just words that travel, but a picture says a thousand words, and videos sometimes say even more. In fact, according to research compiled by 3M, visuals are processed 60,000 times faster than text and gain much greater retention.HubSpot’s social-media scientist Dan Zarrella reports that tweets with images are 94% more likely to be retweeted than tweets without, which means your kids’ selfie snaps and videos are speeding along the information highway at an alarming rate.
6) SHHHHH! To help ensure that your child never has their information stolen, teach the importance of keeping personal information (such as their full birth date, phone number, and address) out of their social networking profile.
7) DON'T LET TROLLS TAKE CONTROL: “Being teased, mocked or even bullied isn't anything new," says Scheff in Psychology Today. "What has changed is how the message can be spread, be magnified and permanently recorded, All thanks to the Internet. Being called “fat and ugly” or having one vicious troll trash your reputation can literally tear a person to shreds—perhaps not physically, but certainly emotionally. The way your teen responds to bullying can also impact their online reputation for years to come." Check out the handy downloadable infographic from cyberbullying,org for “10 Top Teen Tips for Teens” when it comes to handling cyberbullying responses safely and wisely.
Cynthia Lieberman is co-Founder, CyberWise.org and owner of Lieberman Communications, a content marketing and PR consultancy firm for Fortune 500 companies. Equipped with a graduate degree in Media Psychology and Social Change, Lieberman is a Board of Director for the National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE). She teaches Social Media Marketing at UCLA Extension and recently served as an Adjunct Professor in Mass Communications at California State University, Northridge.