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Ten ways to help your children manage their online reputations

Internet Matters gives tips on how parents can help stop kids sharing comments and photos they might regret later, writes Lisa Salmon

Play safe: teenagers need to be aware of potential pitfalls when they’re online
Play safe: teenagers need to be aware of potential pitfalls when they’re online

By Lisa Salmon

The internet keeps a record of everything shared online, from comments and photos to what we buy. This is called our online reputation. And while it can be fun to share online, it can also be hugely damaging for years to come if the wrong thing is posted.

Internet Matters (www.internetmatters.org), an organisation that helps parents keep children safe online, warns it's vital for children and young people to understand this.

"Parents play a huge role when it comes to helping children understand how to manage their online reputation and how it may impact them in later life," says Carolyn Bunting, CEO of Internet Matters.

"It may be seen by a potential employer or their school. This is important for their future as research has shown 35% of employers use social media to screen potential employees."

Content, contact and conduct

Bunting explains that content, contact and conduct feed into a child's online reputation.

"What content are they posting and how does it make others feel?" she asks. "A good general rule when it comes to content is the T-shirt test - if you wouldn't wear it on a T-shirt, then don't post it online.

"Who are they in contact with? Are they sharing publicly, or are they communicating with just their friends in private groups?

"If they're sharing in-jokes on an open site, do they run the risk that what they're saying may be misinterpreted?

"And finally, how are they communicating? Are they conducting themselves positively and do they help support their friends online, or do their posts run the risk of being deemed offensive or potential bullying?"

Bunting says parents should be aware of the pressures surrounding getting a mobile phone for the first time, and that children need to be taught to use it safely and responsibly.

She says parents should have regular and honest conversations about what their child is getting up to online and help them think critically about their online reputation and how they may be perceived online.

She adds: "Stress the importance of how schools and employers can find anything online and how a spur of the moment decision could impact them in later life."

Internet Matters suggests these tips to help children manage their online reputation:

1. Teach them the difference between public and private information online

Review children's privacy settings on the platforms they use to make sure they stay in control of who has access to what they share. It's important to make the point that if it's online there's the potential the world could see it, so thinking before posting is key.

2. Encourage them to be positive online

Actions online can have real-world consequences - share real stories to help them understand the power of being positive online and warn them about fake news, which can lead us to believe things that aren't true.

3. Make sure they know how to report abuse

Spend time together getting familiar with the reporting and blocking settings available on the platforms they use to screen out any abuse that breaks a platform's community guidelines.

4. Empower them to be themselves online

Encourage children not to hide behind anonymity online and be tempted to say or do things they shouldn't. Use examples to highlight the power of being real online and developing their passions to create a positive digital footprint. Photo-sharing sites can put pressure on young people to appear perfect, causing unrealistic expectations.

5. Encourage them to search their name

Make sure children are aware of the information future employers and teachers may see, and agree to remove anything that's unpleasant or incorrect.

6. Check their online reputation yourself

You can research your child's online reputation by searching their whole name and other identifying information, such as a town or nickname, using a variety of search engines and Google image search. If your child is a member of a social networking site, consider joining it yourself and ask to be your child's online connection, or get another trusted adult to do this.

7. Make them aware they can recover from online mistakes

Let them know that if they make a mistake like sexting or posting something they shouldn't, there's always a way to deal with it, and give them support to make smarter choices in the future.

8. Highlight the importance of choosing respect

Talk to them about respecting other people's privacy and viewpoints, even if they don't agree with them.

9. Be the example they can follow

Let your child see how you interact online to learn how to be kind and make safer choices.

10. Be aware of the available resources out there

Internet Matters has produced detailed advice for parents about proactively protecting your child's reputation online, as well as links to bespoke safety advice on the most popular social media platforms that children use.

In addition, Plusnet (www.plus.net) has joined forces with Internet Matters to create Plays on the Internet - a series of plays written by TV presenter and children's book author Konnie Huq to help educate families on the importance of keeping children safe online.

The plays will launch at the end of April with a one-off performance. The scripts will also be available to download via the Plusnet website from April 30.

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