This content is currently in English only and may contain localized resources.
The Importance of Your Teen’s Digital Reputation
Sameer Hinduja & Justin W. Patchin
Reputation matters – at school, in the workforce, in the community, and – increasingly – online. Across social media, the web, and other Internet-based venues is a smattering of content that portrays a persona of you, and shapes the perceptions and attitudes that others have of you. This reflects your digital reputation, and is formed from photos and videos that you (or others) have uploaded, comments you’ve shared, articles in which you’re featured, statements that others have posted about you, screennames you’ve used, and more.
As adults, we likely have understood the importance of creating and maintaining a positive reputation. Have our children? Regardless of whether a teen is in middle or high school, their digital reputation should be a point of priority in their lives. It affects how they are viewed by their peers, their teachers, their coaches and mentors, and others in their community. Hopefully, they have already thought through this reality on some level because people can (and often will) judge them based on how they are depicted online. Indeed, decisions about college admissions, scholarships, employment, or other key opportunities may hinge on their digital reputation, or what some consider their digital footprint.
Help Manage Your Teen’s Digital Reputation
It is important to discuss with your teen the importance of properly managing their online information. Remind them that anything they post online could be accessed by others in the future. Are they comfortable with that? Encourage your teen to ask themselves that question for every piece of content they post.
Next, spend some time seeing what is already out there about them. Begin by running their first and last name (and perhaps school and/or city) through major search engines, and other sites where searches are possible. Use a new “Private” or “Incognito” tab or window so that the search results are not specially curated for you based on your browsing history and cookies. If the problematic content is located on accounts you or they own, encourage them to remove it. If it is available on another site or profile over which you have no control, determine how to contact that creator, poster, or web host. If you don’t hear back, keep at it, or connect with a professional reputation management company and/or get an attorney involved. You can also formally request that outdated content or personal information be removed from certain search results. To help counter problematic content you can also support your teen in finding opportunities for them to be featured in news stories and segments online.
It’s worth remembering that others have the ability to negatively affect a teen’s reputation by tagging them in their photos and posts (which then can show up in social media feeds or in search results that others perform with your child’s name as the search term).A teen can always try to untag themselves, or contact the person who posted it and request for them to remove it. If that doesn’t work, talk to your teen about reporting the individual and making a formal request to the social media site to remove the content.
Research1 shows that social media can serve important professional purposes, such as personal branding, self-promotion and impression management. As such, we encourage its intentional positive use. It’s important that all young people work extra hard to do great things at school and in their community (e.g., making the honor roll, volunteering, extra-curricular activities, etc.) not just for personal growth, but also so that others find evidence of their hard work, integrity, and civic mindedness when searching for them online.
Relatedly, it may be smart to encourage (or help) your teen create a personal website. Here, they can upload evidence of academic, athletic, professional, or service-based achievements, testimonials and recommendations from others who can speak highly of them, and appropriate photos and videos that portray maturity, character, competence, and kindness. This is even more important if a teen has made a mistake and posted something inappropriate online in the past. If possible, they should try to highlight and increase the amount of positive content about themselves online which could minimize the visibility and impact of negative content. Overall, teens should approach their online participation with a constant consideration as to how what is posted about them can serve them, rather than harm them. Parents, partner with your teen to leverage their digital reputation for opportunities that might come their way, and – in this manner – optimize their chances for success.
1 Chen, Y., Rui, H., & Whinston, A. (2021). Tweet to the top? Social media personal branding and career outcomes. MIS Quarterly, 45(2).