Does your teen’s digital footprint look like this?

worried teen girls

These things literally happen every day.  We see them on the news or hear about them and think, “there’s no way my kid would ever do that.  We’ve talked.  He/she isn’t the type. He/she knows better.”

However, we should never under-estimate the fact that while our teens sometimes look grown up, and occasionally (some more than others:) act grown up, and definitely want you to think they’re grown up, they are still often driven by a cocktail of immaturity and hormonal chaos to make- well, frankly- dumb decisions.  Combine a teenage maturity level with teenage hormones, a digital device, and social media and watch out- this combination should be marked ‘highly flammable’.

It isn’t 1988 when people scribbled mean things about someone on a bathroom stall.  Back then, there was a sense of anonymity when they wrote on the bathroom wall.  Rarely could something be traced back to its author.  The stakes are so much higher and the consequences far more severe in the world of social media we currently live in.

Consider this possible scenario:

Pretty, popular high school girl who is very involved in school dates attractive high school boy who is a star athlete.  Girl decides to send a nude picture or two to boy. Later, girl breaks up with boy.  Boy is not happy about the breakup. One guess as to where the pictures end up.  Yep. Twitter or Facebook or Instagram. Let’s assume boy has 600 or 700 followers, and that each of them has a few hundred of few thousand followers.  And that some even downloaded the picture for whatever inappropriate or illegal purpose.  Let’s also assume that this even occurs at school and is completely around school by end of day.  Girl is emotionally devastated.  Where does that leave boy?

To start with, boy might as well forget about athletic scholarships…especially since boy will presumably no longer be playing for his high school team.  As a matter of fact, boy will be lucky to have a college application accepted anywhere.  He’s certainly not the type of person any college would be proud to have representing them.  Especially when there are so many solid candidates competing with him for that place.  Further, there’s the little problem of distributing child pornography- because girl is a minor.  It’s a crime with a bad title and bad consequences. He could potentially be considered a sex offender.  Sex offender does not sound good on a resume.  Which leads to employment.  If boy can’t pursue the sport of his dreams and can’t get into college, now what? Go to work?  What sort of an employer will hire him?  I’ll let you figure that one out.  Boy may be living in his parents’ basement til he’s 50.

Now let’s talk about girl.  Not the brightest choice to ‘sext’ boy in the first place.  As a mother, I’m sure any parent would ask, “What the HELL were you thinking?!”  Girl is a wreck- utterly embarrassed and potentially fielding both tweets of support from her “true” friends as well as looks of judgement from everyone she has to pass in the halls at school.  She will be whispered about and tweeted about for the foreseeable future, causing stress and anxiety with her parents worrying about her state of mind and protecting her from peers who verbally judge her.  She may also lose her position with the school organizations she is involved with.  And, because nothing posted on social media ever really goes away, and the likelihood that her photo is many places in cyberspace already, she stands the chance of recruiters and future employers finding out about her lapse in judgement thereby passing her up for a better candidate.

There is a moral to this story.  And while, here, it is a story, this scenario happens in real life every day all over the US- and the world for that matter.  There is a message we, as electronic parents, can’t afford to miss delivering to our teens:

Your digital footprint is your public reputation, your brand.  It defines you and tells anyone who chooses to research you who YOU really are.  The days of putting together a pretty resume aren’t completely gone, but no one takes resumes and applications at face value anymore.  For what it’s worth, my opinion is that kids needs to be taught the rules and boundaries of social media early.  As early as they are allowed any independence when going online.  By the time they are teenagers with a little freedom via their mobile devices, it’s too late to start.  As parents and teachers, we can harp and show videos and talk about cyber safety until we are hoarse- but don’t forget that the golden rule of raising kids is that the older they get, the dumber you get.  If we begin teaching them while they are young, more apt to take to heart what we say and more eager to please and follow rules- we stand a much better chance of avoiding this scenario when they are teenagers.  I’m sure there are many who would argue, and I respect all opinions.  But, if I decided to start potty training my dog when he was 10, it might be more difficult than if I would have been diligent about it when he was a puppy.

Just sayin.