Protecting Your Teen’s Online Reputation

This article is a GUEST BLOG written by Daniela Baker of CreditDonkey.

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Protecting your teen’s online reputation is more important now than ever. Right now,  everyone from credit lenders in charge of issuing credit cards to college admissions officers weighing which students to accept regularly uses information found on the Internet, particularly on social networking sites, to make decisions that could affect your teen’s life.

Wait, college admissions officers?! That’s right. According to a Kaplan study of 500 competitive colleges, 10% of admissions officers said they look at applicants’ social networking profiles to evaluate them. Out of the colleges that used this online information, 38% said that what they found “negatively affected” how they saw applicants.

So, if your teen has a bad reputation online, that means they now have a bad reputation “in real life,” too.

What can you, as a parent, do to protect your teen’s online reputation? Well, in terms of social networking sites, Facebook and Twitter are very popular among teens, so we will cover some basic privacy settings you can discuss with your child. Then, we will discuss how to protect your teen’s privacy on the Internet in general.

  1. Help your teen tighten up their security settings on Facebook.

First of all, you should know that if your teen is under 18, Facebook already sets up stricter security settings for them.

For example, according to Facebook’s official Help Center, most of the information a teen shares can be seen only by “friends of friends,” while adults can choose to share anything they want with the “public.” That is, only the people who are friends with your teen’s friends can send them messages on Facebook, read their status updates, see their photos, and look at lots of other information that they share.

Now, some Facebook users accept every friend request they get, so they end up with hundreds or even thousands of “friends.” So, even though Facebook’s “friends of friends” security setting protects teens somewhat, you should still talk to your teen about what type of information they should share only with their own friends, or not at all.

After talking to your teen, you could try clicking through your child’s privacy settings together and talking about the advantages and disadvantages of sharing certain information with certain people.

Now, many parents ask themselves whether they should add their teen as a friend on their own Facebook account. Facebook recommends talking to your teen about why you want to add them as a friend first, so you can open up a dialogue.

According to Facebook, a parent who adds their teen as a friend should be a role model, resist the urge to post too often, never scold their teen publicly, and avoid adding their teen’s friends. Basically, the more your actions embarrass your teen, the less likely they are to follow your advice!

However, if your teen is OK with it and you can let them explore social networking on their own, adding your teen can be a great way to make sure they aren’t posting anything that would put their online reputation at risk.

  1. Talk to your teen about protecting their tweets on Twitter.

Now, Facebook and Twitter both have a policy that users must be at least 13 to have an account. Unlike Facebook, however, Twitter doesn’t really take any steps to enforce this. You don’t even have to give your date of birth when you sign up for an account, so anyone can do it.

That said, there are really only 2 main things you can do if your teen already has a Twitter account: remind them about the kinds of things they shouldn’t tweet and talk to them about protecting their tweets.

The first is pretty obvious. Tweets are automatically open to everyone on the Internet, so your teen shouldn’t be posting any raunchy, offensive, or highly personal updates. They shouldn’t be doing that on any social networking site anyway.

The second is a feature that isn’t widely used on Twitter, so we’ll explain it a little. According to Twitter’s Help Center, protecting your Tweets lets users decide who can read them on a case-by-case basis.

So, for example, if someone wants to follow your teen’s Twitter account, your teen will have to approve the request before any of their tweets become visible to that person. Plus, protected Tweets won’t show up in Twitter searches, @replies your teen makes to people who aren’t following them won’t show up, and your teen will not be able to share permanent links with anyone except their approved followers.

Again, start a conversation with your teen about the advantages and disadvantages of protecting their tweets. As with Facebook, following their Twitter account can also be a good option.

  1. Make sure your teen knows the dangers of sharing too much personal information anywhere online.

Your teen needs to understand the consequences of sharing information like their full name, phone number, and address online.

Remember that every piece of personal information your teen shares online will make it easier to find even more information about them. In fact, some people enjoy “doxing” others online, which means revealing their personally identifiable information publicly, as a kind of prank.

This can sometimes include sensitive details like information about family members or even credit card numbers. While this isn’t the most common form of “dropping dox” on someone, it could easily lead to identify theft, so it should be taken seriously.

Other than the obvious steps your teen can take, like never posting their phone number or address publicly, or ever sharing your credit card information without your permission, there are a few more steps they can take.

For example, on websites where your teen uses a screen name, it is better to use a different name on each website. This not only makes doxing your teen more difficult, but can also deter hacking attempts, since having the same screen name and password on every website means that losing control of one could compromise the rest.

This is especially important on websites where credit card or PayPal information has been saved. Of course, having a different password on each site is always ideal, too.

Your teen also needs to be careful with the pictures they share. Obviously, this means not posting party photos, but also keeping track of what they post where. Reverse image search engines like TinEye.com can find out if a picture has been posted on different sites, which can make it easier to track down your teen, along with any private or embarrassing information they posted along with that image.

You should regularly run a search for your teen on websites like pipl.com, a search engine that lets you find detailed information on people for free. You should look yourself up while you are at it!

If your teen understands how easy it can be to find people online, they may be less tempted to post more than they need to.

Daniela Baker from the credit card comparison website, CreditDonkey, says when it comes to protecting your teen’s online reputation, the most important thing you can do is talk to them about the many issues related to protecting their online privacy. Help them understand that what they post online could follow them for a lifetime.

As a start, why not show them this article and discuss it together?

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