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Teach Children to Put their Best Digital Foot Forward
2/4/2019 1:00:18 PM
Digital Profile

Harvard is one of the most prestigious colleges in the world and possibly the most difficult one to get into. Imagine the hard work, dedication, and sizable helping of smarts it takes for a student to earn acceptance to this prestigious Ivy League school. An amazing accomplishment to be sure. Now imagine a kid losing this hard-earned acceptance, all because of something posted online during a moment of adolescent immaturity.

Yet in 2017, Harvard rescinded offers of acceptance to at least 10 incoming freshmen because of inappropriate messages and memes these young people posted in a "private” (nothing is private online) Facebook group.

Clearly, there can be serious offline consequences for online actions. Increasingly, what kids post online and what others post about them (a.k.a., their "digital footprints”) can influence their future. According to a Kaplan Test Prep survey, more than two-thirds of colleges say it’s "fair game” to visit an applicant’s social media profile to help them decide who gets in. Nearly one in ten of the colleges surveyed said they had revoked an incoming student’s offer based on something they found online.

Conversely, according to another Kaplan survey, of those admissions officers who do check a prospective student’s social media sites, 47 percent report finding information that gave them a positive impression of prospective students – up from 37 percent the previous year.

More and more, colleges, employers, landlords, pet adoption agencies, and just about everyone else are turning to social media to learn more about the people they want to accept, hire, rent to, entrust with a living thing, or get to know better. So it’s important for kids to make wise decisions when building and maintaining their digital footprints, starting the moment they first venture online.

Google Thyself
Parents should set aside time with their children to Google them, themselves, and selected friends and family in order to see what comes up. A word of warning, though: It’s a good idea for adults to Google themselves privately first in order not to be caught off guard. You just never know. Then, follow these steps:

  1. Google your child to see what appears. Discuss: What was positive? What, if anything, was negative? What could you do to improve your digital reputation? 
  2. Next, Google your spouse/relatives/children’s friends. Try using different search engines and remember to search any nicknames used on social media accounts, too. Then, ask the same questions as above. Also ask: How might others judge your spouse/relatives/children’s friends based on what you found online?
  3. Talk about proactive steps your children might take to balance their digital reputations in favor of positive content.
  4. Finally, set up a "Google Alert” to receive regular updates on your children’s web mentions. This is easily done by signing into a Gmail account, if you have one, and entering the search terms (i.e., your children’s names) that you want Google Alert to track. That way you’ll be notified if something is posted that might impact their digital reputations.
  5. The days of slowly "Getting to Know You” are as ancient as the song of the same name. Today, everyone is a just a few keystrokes away from being able to make a snap character judgment. The good news is that when it comes to kids, parents can help them make their online reputations as awesome as they are.

Diana Graber is a digital literacy educator and advocate and author of Raising Humans in a Digital World: Helping Kids Build a Healthy Relationship with Technology. She is the cofounder of Cyberwise, a leading online safety and digital literacy organization, and the founder and creator of Cyber Civics, a popular and innovative middle school digital citizenship and literacy program currently being taught in more than 40 U.S. states, the UK, Canada, New Zealand, and Africa.
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Categories: Parenting

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