I recently had the opportunity to write an article on child safety and reputation management online for Reader’s Digest. The issue of cyberbullying weighs on parents’ minds like never before, so it was especially satisfying to be given this opportunity to help. Check out the full text of the Reader’s Digest article below.
As cyberbullying becomes more and more prevalent in the news and in our children’s lives it’s important to talk to your kids about their online reputation, especially on social networks, and how it can affect their real lives. Here are 5 basic tips to guide your child as they navigate the Internet:
1. If it’s Online, Consider it Public Information
There’s no way to guarantee that what you post online will stay where you intend it to be viewed. People hack Facebook accounts, friends share private messages, and companies change their privacy policies. Before your child posts a picture, types a wall post, or sends a message, they should consider if what they are sharing is “public information” — would they want their principal, grandma, or college admissions reviewers to see it? If not, they shouldn’t post it.
2. Your Internet Persona Stays With You Forever
The Internet has a very hard time forgetting and is far more like a “permanent tattoo” then we may realize. Today, and even more so in the future, college recruiters look up information about prospective applicants. Fast forward to the day when your child graduates. Hiring managers and recruiters will look at their online reputations before deciding whether to hire. So be wise – Internet mistakes stay around.
3. Practice Good Privacy
Privacy settings aren’t a perfect solution, but they do provide a certain level of protection for social media users. If your child is on a social networking website, make sure he or she knows how to keep updates from public view and max out privacy settings. Sometimes it helps for parents to use the same website, so that you can familiarize yourself with the controls. Additionally, a free tool from ReputationDefender.com, called PrivacyDefender.net, can actually set the privacy settings for you and your child with just two clicks.
4. Your Actions Online Affect Others
Many teens operate under the assumption that anything and everything is okay to share with their online friends. For example, a teen may write, “I wish my Dad would quit his job! He says he hates his job and his boss.” While that may seem like an innocuous rant to the teen, if word spread to the father’s boss, that parent might be in trouble. Teens have to learn that what they share online does not only affect them, but that decisions on the Web can have consequences for others.
5. Keep Personal Information Private
One of the cruelest forms of cyberbullying occurs when a bully hijacks another student’s account, locks them out, and then pretends to be the victim. By the time your child has regained control of their account (if ever), their name and reputation could be smeared across the Internet.
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. Additionally, work with your child on creating a strong password that no one else would be able to guess. Some specific tips include using a combination of uppercase and lowercase letters, symbols, and numbers. Another good option is making a mnemonic phrase into a password. For example, “I, John Brown, was born at 5:00 in the AM” becomes “IJBwb@5itAM.”