August 13, 2015 —

Although I find it hard to believe, my eldest is half way through high school. This summer, along with kicking back, she also plans to take her driver’s test, volunteer at a day camp and begin researching colleges. While she prepares in the real world for her next steps, we are also looking at her online world.

We have had the digital talk at my house. I have spoken with my kids about how what they post online can be shared widely and become part of their permanent digital footprint. With 40% of admissions officers and 52% of employers searching applicants online, they need to be careful about what they share in the digital world. What they post today can impact tomorrow.

Right now, we have a different problem. If you search my teen’s name, nothing appears. She is active online. If you are her friend, you can follow her on her private Instagram account or you may receive an 8-second Snapchat picture. However, if you are a company, college or teacher looking to find out more about her, there is nothing.

While I did a great job educating her on what not to post, I clearly forgot to talk to her about what to post. In today’s digital world, a teen having nothing online could be seen as a negative. According to the recent Career Builders survey, 35% of employers are less likely to interview job candidates if they are unable to find information about them online.

Instead of hiding everything, teens should build a public, positive digital image. By giving people something to find, teens can enhance their application or resume. A great place to do that is Facebook. Teens are moving off Facebook, preferring to share with friends through Instagram or Snapchat. However, Facebook comes up high in search results and many colleges and employers have Facebook pages. Teens can transform their idle Facebook profile into their social resume.  

On this social resume, teens can share all the great events and activities they are proud to participate in. If they love to ride horses or draw pictures, share it. By posting photos, videos or comments around stuff they care about, teens can create a positive digital image. Some examples of what to focus on are pictures, videos or comments about:

  • Working on a community service project
  • Volunteering in the community
  • Announcing an award he or she received
  • Creating works or sharing performances that highlight passions such as dancing, singing, acting, writing, etc.
  • Acting as a leader in school or in the community
  • Playing in sports and games
  • Participating in clubs or activities

Of course, there are still some things teens should never share, even privately. Even on a private account, friends and followers can always screenshot an image and share it more widely. Your teen should never post photos, videos or comments talking about or containing:

  • Drinking alcohol or with people who are obviously impaired by drugs
  • Rude gestures or excessive swearing including abbreviations (WTF is still swearing)
  • Badmouthing people or posting discriminatory comments
  • Anything sexually suggestive
  • Anything illegal

This summer, search your teen’s name online, see what shows up and work with him or her to create a positive public image. The internet is a wonderful tool and if teens use it thoughtfully, their digital me can reflect how amazing they are offline as well as online.

Anne Livingston writes about her own digital family, which consists of 3 kids, 3 laptops, 4 phones, a tablet, a game console, and an iPod Touch on her blog KidsPrivacy. Her articles have been featured on many parenting and security company websites. She also speaks to PTAs and parents about online privacy and offers parenting tutorials on managing a family’s devices and social media. Her book, Talking Digital: A Parent’s Guide for Teaching Kids How to Share Smart and Stay Safe Online, is available on Amazon.