This is an excerpt from the book “CyberSafe: Protecting and Empowering Kids in the Digital World of Texting, Gaming, and Social Media,” by Gwenn Schurgin O’Keeffe, MD (American Academy of Pediatrics, $14.95).
When we teach our kids to negotiate the off-line world, we teach them about ways to create a good impression. We help them understand manners, body language, etiquette, and social rules. We help them learn to negotiate tricky social situations as they get older and start to explore the world on their own. They sometimes shine and sometimes stumble, but we help them stand back up and get on the right path.
Learning to negotiate the online world is similar; by helping our kids learn the rules of the online road their digital footprint trail will head in a positive direction. To manage their digital life and footprint, kids need to know the following before posting anything online:
- Stop to think before you hit send.
- Don’t write online what you wouldn’t say off-line.
- If you saw your online friend off-line, would you be embarrassed by what you wrote, sent, or said?
- If something isn’t funny off-line, it isn’t funny online.
- Comments that have a dangerous or destructive meaning toward another are never OK — they are always harmful and could get you into a lot of trouble.
- Bullies are bullies, even online.
- Follow posted rules.
- Follow age restrictions.
- Ask yourself if what you post is something OK for parents to see.
- If you were a future employer, what impression would you have of your digital footprint?
- What you post can be altered by others — pictures, videos, comments, and text.
How can you help your kids understand the importance of the digital footprint? First, take it seriously yourself. Monitor your posts and be a bit more concerned about the material you are posting and who is reading it. Second, find headlines about other teens gone astray with things like “Facebook firings.” These are very real and do occur. Venting online happens and we all have done it, but discretion is key.