Friday, October 11, 2013

Maintaining a Positive Online Reputation

Unfortunately, many people do not realize that postings to the Internet are not private. We forget that data is being collected and shared about each of us as we participate on various social media and internet sites. For example;, the Facebook “Like” button, Pandora and even will share our likes, clicks and preferences. My feelings are often hurt as I continually encounter wrinkle cream ads and weight- loss advertisements via my Facebook page due to my age even though I am very careful about my personal online profile.

We have all heard of at least one example of poor decision making regarding online posting like the Taco bell employee who was fired a day after his shell licking photo was posted to the company’s Facebook page, the Greek Olympian Voula Papachristou who was booted from her country’s Olympic team after posting a racial joke to Twitter or the numerous political figures who just don’t seem to get it. Clearly, once we post content online we have no control over how or where the content is shared or the subsequent consequences. All of us need to consider the importance of protecting our online presence or reputation.

This has become an important educational issue as well as a parental one. How can we help our children and students consider the importance of thinking before they post content that they will later regret?
First of all we must realize that all children and young adults are not equally at risk. If a child engages in risky behavior offline it is more likely he will make poor choices online.  There seems to be a parallel between children with a history of physical or sexual abuse or low self-esteem and risky behavior online.  
Children today are often quite tech savvy and may know more than many adults about the technology tools and devices available to them.  After all,  they consume an average of 8 hour sof digital media a day.  They are not, however, necessarily  “life savvy” and need our guidance and involvement as they learn to make decisions and manage their online activity.

To that end, parents need to devote the time to becoming more knowledgeable and comfortable with the tools our children use. We should teach our children how to block users from various communication tools and how to save screen shots when they feel uncomfortable with an online interaction. Their biggest fear, and the reason they are hesitant to tell parents about inappropriate interactions online,  is that the technology will be taken away.  It is important to never overreact and to calmly respond when they share sensitive information. Keeping the lines of communication open is critical.

For younger children, an internet filter such as K9 Web Protection (free download) or using  Open DNS on your network can be helpful in restricting explicit content. A family generated contract can also be used to communicate  Internet behavior expectations. The contract also provides an opportunity for family dialogue to openly talk about the issues. I do think that our children will only learn to make good choices if they are gradually given opportunities to make choices for themselves.   As they get older, they should be given more and more freedom as they demonstrate the ability to manage themselves online. Conversely, we must be willing to parent and enforce the rules.  The goal is to help them develop.

Our children are going to make mistakes online. We can help them by making sure they understand the viral nature of online content, keeping an eye out for questionable behavior and at risk children, becoming more tech savvy, keeping the lines of communication open and utilizing available filters and controls.

Helpful sites:

Common Sense Media - - Excellent reviews, recommendations and parent tips for movies, games, apps, websites, books and music.
My Wiki – I have shared dozens of links to help parents with setting up parental controls, family contracts, plagiarism resources and much more. - Anne Collier does a wonderful job of keeping parents and educators informed and engaged on a variety of topics related to our young people’s use of technology.

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