In the generation of digital natives, kids and teens now begin building their digital footprint from a young age. Your digital footprint is a trail of all your online activity and any Tweet, Instagram post or status update can impact it. Although many kids and teens probably do not realize it, their online activities are also shaping their future success. Your online reputation can be associated with your name for many years, and can have a significant impact–positive or negative–on your life. With proper awareness, parents can help their kids take steps to better manage their digital footprint and start building a positive online reputation.

What makes up your online reputation?

Any social media activity is part of your digital presence and can impact your online reputation. Many kids and teens spend a significant portion of their time on social media sites, and use image-sharing platforms like Instagram to interact with friends. Any photos, videos or comments shared on these platforms could potentially be found through a simple Google search. The same goes for videos and comments posted to YouTube, messages in online forums or comments shared on friends’ profiles: it all can potentially shape the narrative about you online. It’s important for parents to teach their kids that what they say and do on these websites can can be associated with their name permanently.

What impact can your online reputation have on your life?

Many kids and teens may not be aware that they even have an online reputation, but it can have major consequences on their lives, both online and offline. Your online reputation can impact your ability to get a job, get into college or even get a date later in your life. A Snapchat of a high school student drinking a beer in their friend’s basement, for example, can be circulated and viewed by school administrators, coaches and parents. This could lead to school suspension, getting kicked off of sports teams and additional damage to the student’s personal reputation.

Cyberbullying can also pose a major threat to a child’s or teen’s online reputation. While there has been extensive coverage of the mental and emotional impacts victims of cyberbullying can experience, it can also leave a trail of damaging images and comments on a child’s online reputation. This is true of both cyberbullying victims and offenders. With initiatives like Anti-Bullying Week, the impacts of cyberbullying are already being taught in schools. Parents can play an important role in underscoring this, and teaching kids that if they wouldn’t say or do something in person, they shouldn’t say or do it online.

Even if kids’ social profiles are private, comments and images can be captured in a screenshot and circulated. Once damaging information is out there, you have very little control over how it is shared and who sees it. Below are some general first steps parents can take to help monitor their child’s online reputation, and get them on track to building an accurate and positive personal brand online.

What steps can you take to protect your online reputation?

Research

The first step a parent can take is to Google their child’s name, and encourage them to do the same on a regular basis. Searches should also be done for any nicknames or usernames a child or teen commonly uses online. With the increasing popularity of image and video sharing services, Google Image Search is just as important in monitoring online reputations.

It can be good practice for parents to set up a Google Alert for their children’s names. This will alert you of new mentions that are showing up in Google Search results. Remember that the information you get through a Google search is public and can be accessed by anyone.

Know how to remove or report damaging information

If parents do come across information that is negative or reveals personal details about their child or teen, they can take steps to have the information removed. Most websites and social media sites have guidelines that outline what information can be flagged for removal. Many sites also have policies that ban users for behavior that can be considered harassing or otherwise inappropriate.

However, it is not always possible to remove damaging information or images. Oftentimes, even if the content is taken down, it is likely that people have already seen it and that damage has already been done. In this case, additional steps may need to be taken to ensure that positive content appears more prominently in search results than the negative content.

Protect personal information

Although anything you post online could potentially make its way into Google Search results, parents should encourage children and teens to protect their activity and personal information by utilizing privacy settings. This can give kids more control over who sees their activity and who can post to their profiles.

Online security should also be part of the discussion parents have with their kids. Using secure passwords and keeping them secret, even from friends, is important in protecting personal information and avoiding unauthorized account access. A hacked account could not only mean someone potentially posing as you online, it could also mean theft of personal information that could leave you vulnerable to identity theft or other criminal activity.

Strengthen your online reputation

Parents can help their kids get an early start on shaping their personal brand online. Parents should encourage kids to claim popular social profiles that people may use to research them in the future. For college or career-bound high school students, creating professional profiles like LinkedIn to share education and internship experience can help communicate their qualifications during the admission and application process.

Parents should also encourage kids to delete or deactivate accounts they no longer use. This not only helps protect personal information, it helps ensure that searches for their name return the most up-to-date and relevant information. College admissions officers and job recruiters commonly search students names and social profiles when making admissions and hiring decisions. Teens can build up a positive online reputation to make sure what they find is positive, accurate and relevant.

In today’s digital age, search results are the new first impression. As kids and teens move forward with their education, jobs and personal lives, their online reputation should adapt to best reflect who they are in order to set them up for success. Having a long and varied digital footprint provides great opportunity for kids and teens to build their personal brand, but an online reputation must be actively managed in order to take advantage of these benefits and reduce potential threats.