A tattoo is permanent, much like the information we post online. The photos we share, the comments we write, the videos we ‘like’. Even if we delete them, they may still be out there – saved and shared by others, or even kept by the site or app itself.
What does the content you post online say about you?
As adults, this may have less of an effect on our futures, the people we meet online and the relationships we build, but for your child, the consequences could be far reaching.
Having been brought up in a digital world, your child’s ‘digital tattoo’ is likely to be much larger than yours. Most of us did things as teenagers that we wouldn’t want people to know about today. Our youthful indiscretions were probably not recorded at the time and so are, happily, now long forgotten. But today, young people’s lives are documented daily, by them, their friends and even their family, sometimes even before birth. (Ever seen a proud friend or relative share their ultrasound scan image on social media?!)
How much room does this leave for children to make developmental mistakes, without having lasting proof and possible longstanding embarrassment?
Why should I be concerned?
Embarrassment is one thing which young people may face but it’s also possible that the things they post, or are posted about them, could have a negative effect on their reputation, education or future employment.
Things that happen online, but involve fellow students, can be brought to the attention of their school, and children may be sanctioned as a result of their actions, even if they were not directly involved in wrongdoing. They may have been a bystander who allowed bullying to take place, or perhaps liked or shared something they thought was funny, but which then caused harm or upset to others.
In extreme cases, if your child has posted or shared sexual content, there is a possibility that they have shared this with strangers online without realising it. This could lead to them being pressured into continuing contact, or even being threatened into taking more images or meeting face to face.
Can a digital footprint be a good thing?
Very possibly. Your child can have a positive reputation online and there will be things that they do, such as volunteering or achieving in sport or the arts, they will want people (or future employers) to know about. The key is to have control over who and what people can find about them.
What advice can I give my child to think before they post?
It is never too late for your child to take control of their online reputation and there are things you can do to help.
The National Crime Agency’s child protection command CEOP, has an education programme called Thinkuknow.
Thinkuknow offers top tips to teenagers on this topic, such as ‘things to think about before you post’ and advice for ‘after sharing’. Relaying these tips to your child is important.
If you’d like your child to read these tips for themselves, ask them to visit the thinkuknow site (link is external) directly, maybe even sit with them while they do so and answer any questions they may have.