Sue Scheff: Steps parents can take to protect their teenagers online reputation

Source: Examiner
By Heather Marlman

As more and more teenagers are taking part in social network sites such as Facebook and MySpace, it’s becoming more and more important for parents to take an active role in helping to protect their teens online reputation.

There are steps that all parents can take to make sure their teenager is playing things smart when they go online both in the text and photos that they post on these social profiles. By taking an active role parents can be certain that the online reputation of their teenager isn’t tarnished.

Talk to your teen

This is a good time to have a conversation with your teenager about their online “image”. Most teenagers are fairly self conscious about their reputation among their peers, however many of them fail to recognize that what may bee seen as cool or funny to their friends is viewed as suggestive or irresponsible to other adults. Remind them that a growing number of college admissions staff and employers are looking at the online profiles of their applicants and using the information they find to base their decisions.

Google your teen

Typing in your teenagers name can sometimes reveal some startling results. Make a point to do a Google search on your teen to find out what information you can find. While your teenager may see this as a form of “spying”, remind them that you are only using the same resources that the entire world has available. If you can find it then so can anyone else.

Join their networks

Not every parent is well versed in the world of social networking but having a teenager often means that it’s time to take a crash course. Create your own profiles on networks such as Facebook and MySpace and add your teenager as one of your contacts. If your teenager uses Twitter, create an account and follow them.

Creating online profiles gives you the ability to let you see what they are posting for the rest of their friends to see. Again, this is not a way of spying on your teenager. It’s a way of creating an open door policy between parent and child.

Encourage adult friends and family members to also add your teen as one of their contacts as a way of further policing the information that they post online.

While these may seem like extreme measures, often teenagers say and do things because they are unaware of the potential consequences. If you find material on any of these social networking sites that you consider inappropriate, make it a point to discuss it with your teenager without being too harsh. Often teens do things that adults may see as inappropriate when they were merely intending to be funny. Discussing the difference in the way things appear to adults is a good way to help shift your teen from the world of being a child to the world of being grown up.
More resources for both parents and teenagers in ways to protect your online reputation will be made available through Project Pro and distributed to high school counselors.

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