Although we were all kids once, today’s parents may have an even harder time understanding their children than nearly any generation in the history of the world. Never before has technology moved so fast, and never before has the world changed so much in the span of only a couple decades. It’s a fact that kids today are growing up in a world that is extremely different than the world their parents grew up in. In fact, if you are the parent of a teenager today, chances are you didn’t even know what the internet was until you were well out of high school.
This is part of the reason teenagers get into so much trouble online—their parents never had to deal with this technology and many of them still don’t know how to use it as well as their kids. Besides the obvious dangers of strangers, piracy, and pornography online, teenagers today also have an increased chance of ruining their future online reputation due to things they post online today.
It’s not something we talk about very often, but parents need to help guide their children toward safe and positive online interactions now, so that their online behavior won’t come back to haunt them in the future. Primarily parents need to work with their kids to learn, monitor, and teach.
Because most parents of teenagers today didn’t have widespread access to the internet when they were young, it can sometimes be hard to identify with the tech-savvy youth of today. But just because you’re not a digital native doesn’t mean you can’t learn to communicate like one
Primarily, parents need to be aware of the technology that exists, what it is capable of, and how to use it. If you are not already on Facebook—join. And join other sites that your kids are using as well. The best way to learn about these technologies is to use them yourself. As well, stay abreast of the latest trends in online web culture. When you hear about a popular new site, check it out for yourself. It’ll make it easier to talk to your kids about it and help them understand how to use it responsibly.
Knowing about these sites and using them isn’t of much use unless you know what your kids are doing on them. It’s a good idea to follow your kids online, and make it a requirement that they let you follow them as a condition of joining. You don’t have to monitor every conversation they have or every link they post, but you need to be able to check in every once in a while to make sure they’re not posting inappropriate photos or posting comments that could be harmful to them down the road.
A growing number of employers check out potential employees on social networks before they hire them and many college admission officers are beginning to do the same. Already at this young age, teens need to be aware of their online reputation and the real-world impact it can have on them. And you can help them develop an awareness of their online reputation while they are young, so they will develop positive habits they can carry into adulthood.
Once you know how to use social networks and follow your kids’ online activities, you need to help guide them to make good decisions. Although the internet appears to be a vast playground where you can do anything you want without consequence, that is hardly the case. Teach your kids to be mindful of their online reputation today, and they won’t run into problems later. For example, teach them:
- Not to post inappropriate photos of themselves online—photos where they appear partially clothed or participating in dangerous or illegal behavior.
- To treat others with respect online.
- To keep their blog posts clean and professional.
Teaching your kids about online reputation hazards early is about opening a dialogue and having an open and frank discussion about what is and is not appropriate online etiquette. When the two of you can sit down and understand the pitfalls of irresponsible online behavior, you’ll be helping your teens shore themselves against future embarrassment and negative consequences.