August 13, 2012

Back To School: Time To Talk To Your Kids About Their Online Identity

Michael Harper for - Your Universe Online

If you´ve got kids, you are no doubt very aware of the impending arrival of a new school year. As summer draws to a close, many parents have already begun to prepare their children for new classes, new schools, new teachers, and their familiar school day routine.

On the cusp of this new season, one doctor is imploring parents to consider more than new clothes and school supplies as they get ready for a new school year. The Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas has issued a report today suggesting a parent´s back-to-school checklist should include an honest and frank discussion about their children´s online identities, a telling sign of the times.

"When you prepare your children for the beginning of school, you've been saying 'be respectful', 'be kind,' 'think before you speak' — these same rules apply online," says Dr. Amy Acosta, assistant professor of pediatrics — psychology at Baylor College of Medicine.

Many of the changes felt by adolescents in their new classrooms and hallways doesn´t remain in the school building, suggests Dr. Acosta. These young people are also faced with similar changes when they get home from school and get online. Therefore, Dr. Acosta says it´s important for parents to have a discussion about how their children conduct themselves online, asking them to consider their manners and other family values when they enter into the online playground that is social media.

"Just like you talk about values with your child — what is your reputation? How are you representing yourself when you are out there in the hallways and in the classroom and on the soccer field? — that's the same conversation you have when you're talking about social media and texting," said Dr. Acosta in a press statement.

Parents should ask their children to think of their reputation and online identity as a brand. According to prior research, young people are able to learn lessons such as reputation management whilst online. As they move about in their online social network, teens should be aware of how their actions could affect their reputation both on and offline. Dr. Acosta hopes that if these lessons are learned in the early days of adolescence, these young people should be able to think critically about their decisions when they enter their college years.

"Talk to them about the image they are putting out about themselves online and through text messaging, ensuring that image the same as the one they present to their teachers, coaches and friends. If it's drastically different, there may be a problem," said Dr. Acosta.

The Baylor College of Medicine report also suggests that social media and social networking might not be appropriate for all young people. Dr. Acosta suggests considering both the age restrictions on each social site, as well as the site´s specific privacy settings before allowing their children to participate.

Another aspect to consider before letting your children loose in the online-sphere is if they are mature enough to behave themselves appropriately on these social sites.

"If your child is at risk in person, they may be at risk online,” suggests Dr. Acosta.

All told, this new report says young people will feel empowered to make the right decisions if their parents are open and willing to have a conversation with them about their online identity and reputation.

"Adolescents can feel empowered when you collaborate with them," said Dr. Acosta.

"If you're honest with your children and tell them why a rule, such as having their password, is important, it creates a collaborative environment.”