When I speak to teenagers about Internet Safety and Internet Savvy I do not only talk about predators and cyberbullying. I also talk about what it means to have a ‘digital tattoo.’ Before elucidating this concept in my own mind, I used to try to teach adolescents about their online reputations. I called this online reputation management, cybercitizenship or even Google-Me. Here, I would tell students about how important it is to manage your online reputation like your offline one—never do something you might regret online because it could last forever. However, no matter how many ways I described this, teens would come away from the talk forgetting this important point.
Finally, I stumbled upon the idea of a digital tattoo. I explain to teens that posting a picture or comment is very much like inking a tattoo on their digital body. I show them pictures of tattoos they might regret and then liken this to online stains.
Digital tattooing is an important way to think about teens and their online reputations. It is also beneficial for them to think about their online reputation like a body—you want to keep it clean and healthy. This takes maintenance and resisting the temptation to post something you will regret in a moment of weakness—like a drunken sailor outside of a tattoo parlor. What can parents do to prevent digital tattoos:
1. Set-up a free Google Alert on your child’s name. If anything gets posted about them or from them online with their name you will get an alert.
2. Set all privacy settings on social networks. No one but friends and family should be able to see your child’s profile.
3. Talk to them about digital tattoos. Ask them if they have ever seen someone post something that they regretted and what happened.
4. Have a photo approval process. If teens want to post photos I highly recommend (for 15 and younger) parents set up a process where teens have to email pictures to you before posting. You would be surprised how often a teen says “I didn’t think it was that bad,” after posting an inappropriate picture.
As technology comes more into our lives, it is important not to fear it, but cultivate an attitude of care and health regarding our children and their digital personas.