If your teen has created a page on any of the social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, LiveJournal and YouTube they are communicating with anyone who Googles them without even knowing it. Those online posts may get dredged up by an admissions counselor or Googled by a future employer.
Odds are your teen has already been socially active online. If they have and were not aware of the consequences, it might be time to do some cleanup. Since a teen always values privacy, have a discussion with them about the sites that they frequent. Discuss with them the value of a reputation and the importance of protecting that reputation online. Encourage your teen to do a Google search now and see what the search engine discovers.
Here are some simple guidelines to follow when helping your teen guard their online presence:
- Monitor their online presence. Since most families have a personal computer and many teens have their own in their rooms, it's critically important that you supervise their online activities. Establish from the beginning that you will be watching and observing their online activities.
- Encourage them to ask themselves when they post something if it represents who they are. Random posting is prevalent on Facebook and Twitter. One line comments on how their day is going can communicate much about their character and what they deem important. Google searches are now picking up those sites as viable search results. Imagine an admissions counselor reading something along the lines of these:
"I hate school."
"I can't wait to graduate and start partying."
"I've decided to coast during my senior year."
"My parents want me to go to college and I'm bummed about it."
"My teachers are clueless."
"I got accepted at College A and I really want to go to College B."
Everyone has bad days now and then. But making a habit of voicing every single thought might come back to haunt your teen if a pattern can be established.
- Instill in them the importance of having their personal life and their virtual life coincide. Impress upon your teen the value of maintaining a reputation online that matches up with the personal one. They need to be authentic to avoid confusion. Many teens try to "be cool" online and act like they don't care about school and even hate their parents, when in reality that couldn't be further from the truth.
- Stay on top of all activity. Just like teens want to know who is talking about them behind their back, they have to stay on top of what is being said or posted about them online. Set up a "Google Alert" for their name. You can go to Google and search Google alerts and this will allow you to 'subscribe' to your name. This way, anytime someone posts your name you will be alerted in an email.
- If you find something negative, act immediately. Here are some tips on how to react, and how to help your child build his/her own personal brand off and online.
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