Do you remember being a teenager and your mom threatening to surgically remove the telephone receiver from your face because you’d been on the phone all night? How about dying your hair or sneaking out at night to decorate a few trees with toilet paper? Finding what works and what doesn’t is all part of youth and evolving into adulthood.
Much has changed in the world today but the core need of kids to connect and express remains the same.
Peer connection and self-expression are critical pieces of a teen’s emotional development only today, social media plays a huge role in both. In fact, according to a 2015 Pew Institute study, 55% of teens spend time every day texting with friends, 79% of all teens instant message their friends. Also, 72% of all teens spend time with friends via social media. That same study also found that a majority of teens depend on social media to feel more connected to friends, to understand their peers’ feelings, and for their emotional support through challenging times.
Focus: Reputation Managment
As you coach your child through the importance of reputation management, it’s important to remember that creativity, conflict, humor, physical appearance, peer approval, and exploring different interests all shape a teen’s journey to adulthood. And, sometimes what a parent may consider irresponsible behavior online, is a child maturing (albeit publicly) and expressing his or her natural need for acceptance, affirmation, and individuality.
So with our kids’ never-ending connecting taking place how can parents respectfully encourage a teen’s independence and still step and influence when needed?
Our digital reality:
- High school teachers, advisors, and coaches are aware of — and care about — students’ online behavior
- College recruiters review digital information of potential applicants
- Employers and recruiters search digital profiles before deciding to hire
- Content on the internet is forever
- A digital reputation becomes like a tattoo — once it exists, it’s nearly impossible to erase
- Actions online — both positive and negative — impact others, sometimes in very viral ways
To help keep your child’s online reputation sparkling — and your sanity in tact through the high school years — take a few minutes to review and discuss these eight tips around the dinner table this week.
10 Ways to Help Kids Protect their Online Rep
1. Tie digital behavior to goals. Does your child aspire to go to teach, go to law school, or play a college or professional sport someday? Relate the importance of reputation management to your child’s passions and dreams. Discuss goals and bring the reality of digital behavior up close and personal. Take the time to review and discuss digital content and, together, remove questionable posts.
2. Be flexible. Be consistent in coaching your child but also be flexible in your approach to each situation. If your child has a history of wise behavior online, be sure to reward that. Don’t employ restrictive rules out of fear of what might happen. Allowing fear to drive your parenting will only damage your relationship with your child at a time when relationship, trust, and communication is everything. If there’s a consequence for an online misstep, stay calm and keep communication open and honest.
3. Words can be weapons. Words matter and wield an incredible amount of amount of power to lift up or tear down. Words in the online world can become weapons. Kids may take social media accounts for granted even though each account profile represents an enormous responsibility. Use real world examples to teach your child about the power of words and their consequences when used recklessly online. Specific cases more recently include online word wars between celebrities and several cyberbullying cases that ended tragically.
4. Create, keep boundaries. While it’s important not to stifle your teen while he or she explores various means of self-expression online, don’t be afraid to draw the line when it counts. If a behavior or attitude is hurting themselves or anyone around them, don’t let it slide. The more clearly you communicate your family’s values and expectations, the more likely your child will be to make wise digital decisions when you are not around.
5. Assign some adjectives. Ask your child list out the adjectives he or she would like other people to use when describing them online. It helps to establish goals and visualize attributes such as honest, funny, kind, considerate, smart, and compassionate. If the list of adjectives doesn’t line up with your child’s online behavior, discuss some ways to close that gap.
5. Evaluate the digital company you keep. If your child’s network of friends is known for bullying, being reckless, or posting inappropriate content, that behavior can tarnish your child’s online reputation. Take a stroll through his or her stream and point out the red flags (including friends) that may need a closer look. Block tagging: To make sure your child doesn’t get tagged in risky photos on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook, make sure privacy settings prevent tagging or require user approval.
6. Practice the pause. Teens and impulsivity live intertwined. Emotion can cloud judgment, and when a majority of one’s day transpires online, that combination can cause problems. For instance, if your child posts a few angry comments following a family (or friend) argument, those comments can do far more damage than the initial tiff. Model patience and pausing online and coach your kids when in doubt, don’t post that anger-laced comment.
7. Embrace the basics. The start of a new school year — especially for seniors — is the perfect time to remind your child not to share personal data or details online. It’s a good idea to search your child’s name on social networks, search engines, and databases. If any negative information does exist, be diligent about coaching your child in how to ask others to remove unflattering photos or comments about your child. Make sure they understand the details of what to keep and what to delete in their profiles to strengthen their digital footprint as they move into adulthood.
8. Teach your kids to fish. No, not for grouper or salmon but for the confidence they need to be awesome digital citizens and shine online. It’s easy to jump in and “handle things” for our kids without allowing them to benefit from the experience — no matter how bumpy it may be. If there’s a security issue online, a personal conflict, or a reputation issue, let your child be part of the solution (be it face-to-face or online). That way, the next time he or she can attempt to resolve an issue themselves.
9. Encourage kindness. It really is cool to be kind, and it’s likely your child daily observes the ripple effect that kindness among peers can have online. So, just catch your kids being awesome. If they are smart about safety online — praise the. If they are modest, caring, encouraging to others, make sure they know you see them.
10. Talk about it — all of it. Relationship building with your teen is a full-time job and worth every ounce of effort. Make sure your kids know they can come to you with anything that happens online — the good, the bad, and the stupid. If your child has made a mistake, let him, or her know you are there to help without lecturing or condemning. It’s better to understand the situation and work on a solution than ignoring it or allowing it to get any worse.