Character counts: Have a heart-to-heart about online reputation

Consider these guidelines while discussing the impact of over-sharing.

Full Transparency

Our editorial transparency tool uses blockchain technology to permanently log all changes made to official releases after publication. However, this post is not an official release and therefore not tracked. Visit our learn more for more information.

Learn more

When your teen is ready for the world of online sharing is up to you and your family. But, the conversation about the kind of person they want to be—in real time and online—should be early and ongoing. For most parents, it would be horrifying to find explicit or offensive content on their child’s public page or profile for everyone to see. A parent wants what’s best for their child, and surely, they want their kids to personify the values they’ve imparted on them.

But, mistakes happen, and adults, children and teenagers sometimes post certain information that should otherwise not be public. If your child decides that their post does not represent them anymore, they can delete the post. Unfortunately, anything that goes online will stay online, even after being deleted. The “privacy settings” and other tools that make users feel more at ease when deciding to share information only grant us a false sense of security. Smart phones and other digital tools were not necessarily designed with privacy in mind. Even if your child or teen takes extra precaution when sharing information that he or she thinks is private, their information could always leak. That is because, whether publicly or privately, information shared over digital means will always have a way to become widely accessible. After all, a screenshot can be taken, phones can be stolen and passwords can be hacked.

Unfortunately, anything that goes online will stay online, even after being deleted. The privacy settings and other tools that make users feel more at ease when deciding to share information only grant us a false sense of security.

Research shows that we’re all using mobile devices to do more: to find a date, a house or a job. Chances are, your parents talked with you about making a good first impression on a job interview, how to look people in the eye and give them a firm handshake. They likely talked with you about why that was important. For many young adults, texting and reaching out online is that first handshake. It’s the new “nice to meet you.”

What kind of person do you want to be?

If the question sounds heavy, it is. For starters, this conversation can help strengthen the parent-child bond as they discuss the makings of their identity. For any developing mind, understanding who they are can be a contentious and challenging question. But frequent conversations initiated by those who we love and support the most is a way to help young people answer questions about who they are and what they stand for.

Try this:

When possible, speak from your own experience when you were a teen. When did you start thinking about who you wanted to be and what you believe in? How did you go about becoming that person? Teens are more responsive when you talk from your own experience and memories.

Before you post, do you think about who’s going to see it?

Because our digital presence becomes an extension of our identity, children should become aware that their online actions have consequences. Online activity can have a malicious effect when the person behind an aggressive Tweet or comment feels physically distant from the recipient. Children should realize how their digital messages could be perceived and interpreted by a wider audience.

Try this:

This is an opportunity for parents to teach their children how living out their values and ethics also extends to their online behavior. When did you need to stop yourself from sending an angry or impulsive message? Or have you ever over-shared something you didn’t want to work colleagues to see? What was the outcome and what did you learn? 

Remember to tell kids to pause before they post.


Could it help or hurt your ability to reach your goals?

A positive online reputation is now an integral part of achieving many goals in a young person’s life. More than two-thirds of colleges (68%) say it’s “fair game” to check an applicant’s social media accounts, according to a Kaplan Survey.

Talking about the impact and the technological tools that children have at their disposal can be what makes a difference in the long run. As children try out for a team, a play or especially when applying for college, they should be aware of how their digital representation lines up with their goals.

Try this:

Lend a guiding hand when talking about what your child envisions for her or his future. If your child’s online image doesn’t line up with who they want to become, help them understand why it’s hurtful, or why that picture or post may inaccurately reflect them for years to come. Help them understand that with tremendous connectivity and information comes big responsibility.

Let them know it’s okay to make mistakes as long as they are learning from them along the way.

When your child gets a mobile device and at what age is between you and your child, but a conversation like this should be early and ongoing. The conversations between parents and teenagers surrounding the pitfalls of online activity are as important as any other educational conversation you will have with them. The same great parenting rule remains: Be the person your child can talk—or text—to about anything. When it comes to sharing online, character still counts.

This article was authored by staff at the Family Online Safety Institute, a nonprofit organization that works to empower parents to confidently navigate the digital world with their kids. It was originally posted on their Good Digital Parenting blog and republished here with permission.

For related media inquiries, please contact

Related Articles

Too much restriction can have a negative effect, studies show. Strive for a mix of supervision, guidance and nonintervention, guidance and nonintervention.
Use common sense—and some new research—to decide what’s right for you and your baby.Use common sense—and some new research—to decide what’s right for you and your baby.