I put a lot of focus on ways to prevent- or get ahead of- cyberbullying and online misbehavior before it starts. This makes sense for kids in that sweet spot who are just getting online and establishing their first media accounts. But, what about the kids in high school who are already tweeting their way out of scholarships and jobs? Or, simply making common mistakes they don’t even realize are mistakes? Who’s helping them?
As a parent of 2 high school age kids and as someone who is focused on how high schools in general address this, I’ve noticed that there simply isn’t a standard in education today. A few schools here and there may have solid programs in place, but they are certainly the minority. The norm today looks more like leveraging a school resource officer, a local agency, or someone at the district level to come in and talk to the kids during the year. The intent is there, but the impact just isn’t.
However, I don’t think we should leave it up to the schools. It’s our job to oversee what our teens are doing when they text or interact online. Our kids will move beyond high school at some point, right? The social media profile they spend several hours a day creating now will dramatically impact their success with what they choose to do. According to a 2015 Pew Research study on Teens, Social Media and Technology, 92% of teens report going online daily- including 24% who say they go online “almost constantly”.
Parents, we need to be equipped to understand WHAT a social media profile really is, WHY it’s important to keep clean and HOW to help our kids leverage it in such a way to promote themselves in the very best, most positive light. NEWSFLASH: their social media profile IS their brand and their resume.
Let’s start here. What makes up your social media profile?
In a nutshell- everything. Who you follow, who follows you, who tags you in photos and the photos you are tagged in. Photos you post and tag. What you comment, re-tweet, re-gram, re-post. All of these tiny pieces are like the many bricks that build a house, and they determine the beauty and aesthetic value of that house.
Questions that should be going through your mind as a parent:
How many followers does my child have?
Why do they care about what he/she posts/tweets?
Who are they?
Who is my child following and why?
What is my child posting or tweeting and re-posting/re-tweeting/re-gramming?
Who’s tagging my child? Who’s my child tagging?
Sound intrusive? Maybe. Maybe not. The question is this, if you could help your child make better and smarter decisions by knowing the answers to any of these questions, would you do it? Not sure, consider this.
Yes, I know. Snapchat “disappears”. Or, does it? I’ll bet the cheerleader who snapchatted her boyfriend who in turn screenshotted the snapchats and tweeted them to his 800 followers would tell you Snapchats don’t always disappear.
Or, how about Twitter.
In an article from The Telegraph (January 2013), it states:
“The venerable US institution is assembling all of the 400 million tweets sent by Americans each day, in the belief that each of the mini-messages reflect a small but important part of the national narrative.”
Mission Damage Control
Ok, I’m not a gambler, but I would wager that 99% of teens between 14 and 18 today have made a mistake online.
So, who cares?
Like the employer in social media post above, that’s exactly who cares. Check this out:
“A new survey from CareerBuilder found that 51 percent of employers who research job candidates on social media said they’ve found content that caused them to not hire the candidate, up from 43 percent last year and 34 percent in 2012.
Forty-three percent of employers use social networking sites to research job candidates, up from 39 percent last year and 36 percent in 2012. Additionally, 12 percent of employers don’t currently research candidates on social media, but plan to start, according to the national survey, which was conducted online by Harris Poll on behalf of CareerBuilder from February 10 to March 4, 2014, and included a representative sample of 2,138 hiring managers and human resource professionals, and a representative sample 3,022 full-time, private sector workers across industries and company sizes.
Beyond Social Networking
Employers aren’t limiting themselves to social networks when it comes to researching candidates’ web presences. Forty-five percent of employers use search engines such as Google to research potential job candidates, with 20 percent saying they do so frequently or always.”
But, it isn’t just employers teens need to think about. Club sports teams, scholarship committees, college recruiters, the teacher they want a recommendation letter from (who saw that tweet, by the way, about how boring their class was…just sayin).
Clean it up- your social media profile is your brand.
So, what can we do as parents? Now that you know a little more about what makes up your child’s social media profile and why it’s so critical to keep it clean, let’s talk about what to communicate to our teens and how to get started.
Treat social media as your highway billboard. Know that your social media profile may as well be on the 6:00 news.
Most social media is “public” i.e. inside the Google radar. Platforms like Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Ask.fm- the content is easily found by potential employers, recruiters, etc. That’s ok- what it means is that your child needs to know that and use it to their advantage. Here’s what I mean- delete everything negative or the content simply doesn’t have substantive value (ex. I’m hungry, I’m cold, I hate this class, I’m bored, wish I had some Doritos, you get the drift…) in every social media account. (Note: just because you ‘delete’ posts/tweets/etc doesn’t mean they are gone forever, but do it anyway.)
These public accounts should be used ONLY to build your brand. It’s completely ok and cool to build others up, say nice or complimentary things, upload photos or positive images about passions and hobbies and things you love. It’s also great to modestly note accomplishments and achievements- you want that scholarship committee, recruiter or potential employer to see that you were accepted to an honors camp or that your team took first in a competition.
Re-evaluate your followers and establish some privacy.
This is the toughest thing to get your kids to do, because they have learned to define their popularity status based on the number of followers or “friends” they have as well as how often something they post gets re-posted, favorited or re-tweeted. What they don’t understand is that no human can possibly have 900 “friends”. And, if 900 people are “following” a 15 year old, why?? If you are ok with this, and some parents are, it’s even more critical that your child understands and practices posting ONLY what they would be proud for Grandma or their employer or college recruiter to see.
Establishing privacy is a little easier than cleaning up followers. The fact is that kids want to take silly photos and make comments about things we, as adults, think are ridiculous. “My stomach is growling, and I’m so bored in this class, I can’t quit thinking about lunch.” Really? They’re gonna do this. They are kids and the part of the brain that helps them make smart, more inhibited decisions, isn’t fully developed until age 25. Encourage them to set up a safe, private place to communicate and be themselves with a group of friends. Real friends- not the 900 followers they have on Twitter. Frienedy (www.frienedy.com) is a perfect platform for this, allowing users to set up groups, and they can control what they share with each of their different groups. Photos, comments, etc can’t be re-posted, accidentally shared with the wrong person or tweeted to a larger group. All content inside Frienedy is completely private and off the Google radar. Teens love to collect “stuff” that they want as well. Frienedy lets them collect items on a WishList which can be followed – but this is the only content inside Frienedy that can be followed and “favorited”.
You may also consider having your child make their Twitter account private. This is a tough one simply because once they do this, their tweets can no longer be re-tweeted and that’s important to them. Personally, I don’t force this on my kids because I’ve conditioned them about what to post understanding that they are building their personal brand to their hundreds of followers.
Remember this- all of us have made mistakes online including our kids. Own it. It’s ok, but “Mission Damage Control” needs to be in full swing to help our kids be in the best position they can be in to be successful outside of high school.
I hope this post was helpful to parents out there with teens who simply don’t know where to start or what to do. It’s more lengthy that what I typically write, but the content is so important. I’d like to hear from you if you are a parent of a teen. Was this helpful, and what other questions are burning in your mind about what your teens are doing online and how to manage it?